The Hazel Wood is a dark and intriguing fairy tale in itself, with an obscure book of bleak and unrelenting fairy tales at its heart. It’s beautiful and deftly written by Melissa Albert, also the founding editor of the Barnes and Noble Teen Blog. It’s compelling, like walking into a mysterious wood full of treasures and horrors. You know you should really go back - it's getting dark, after all - but you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and soon you’re lost in this astonishing read. As the path twists and turns before you, your sense of unease and foreboding grows as shocking truths unfold, in ways that make you feel you should have, could have, seen it coming – but you didn’t.
So, where does this walk in the woods begin? To quote the back cover copy, Alice has spent most of her life on the road, always one step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at her heels. But when her grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her isolated estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice discovers how bad her luck can really get. Her own mother is stolen away, by a figure who claims to come from the supernatural world where the fairy tales are set. Alice’s only clue is the message left behind: Stay away from the Hazel Wood.
Of course, that’s exactly where Alice heads for, with obsessive fan of her grandmother’s Finch in tow, who acts as her guide as he knows Althea’s fairy stories, featuring the likes of Twice-Killed Katherine and Alice-Three-Times, inside out. I don’t want to ruin it for you by saying too much about what happens when they get there - just prepare to be shocked, surprised and completely spellbound. And I will tell you that characters from the stories are on the loose in this world too, and they seem to be on Alice's trail as much as she's on theirs.
Will Alice stay alive and on the right track long enough to find The Hinterland, where Althea's story characters live? Will she be reunited with Ella, her beloved, missing mother? Will she find her true self, and the key to her strange nomadic childhood? Will she, even, find a place to call home?
Don’t stay away from the Hazel Wood – take a deep breath and walk right in.
The Woollies, Kelly McKain's new picture book series with Oxford University Press, are out now.
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