Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States on January 29, 2018
The Hazel Wood has gotten a lot of prepublication hype, and I always wonder if I'm actually going to like hyped books or if the the buildup is too much for the book to live up to. In this case, you can trust the hype, because The Hazel Wood is really good.
Alice is a teenager who lives with her mother Ella. Ella is the daughter of a reclusive writer with a cult following, Althea Prosperpine. Many years before, Althea published a book of fairytales about a place called the Hinterland. The book is long out of print and nearly impossible to find, but Althea has some extremely devoted fans. Ella is estranged from her mother, and Alice has never met her grandmother.
Alice and Ella live an odd life. They are constantly on the move, never staying in one place for too long, always trying to stay one step ahead of the bad luck that seems to follow them wherever they go. Bad things happen to and around them: their house is flooded, a wildcat enters their house through an open window, creepy people seem to follow them, and Alice was briefly kidnapped by a fan of her grandmother when she was 6 (she was returned unharmed). But now Althea is dead, they're living in New York, and Ella has gotten married. Ella is hopeful that they've moved on from the bad luck, but one day, Alice sees the man who kidnapped her, and he doesn't seem to have aged a day. She goes home to find her mother missing, and she turns to a classmate named Ellery Finch for help. Finch is one of Althea's superfans, and the two set off on a quest for the Hazel Wood, Althea's estate, which they hope will lead them to Ella.
This book is dark and creepy. Think the Brothers Grimm stories as they were originally written, before they were Disneyfied. Alice isn't a particularly likable heroine. She has anger management issues and she's very prickly. But I felt like she was realistic. Her behavior makes sense when you consider that she's a kid who's had no stability in her life. She's had to move every few months, she's never finished a whole school year in one place, and she has to take care of her mother. Of course, she has some anger issues.
Alice and Finch's journey is weird and twisty. They start out in New York, looking for clues to the Hazel Wood's location. Finch once owned a copy of the book, but it was stolen, and tracking down another copy proves problematic. They encounter all kinds of creepy people and it seems as though the Hinterland is coming after them. Finch tells Alice some of the stories he remembers from the book, and I loved this part. The bits and pieces of the stories in the book are deliciously creepy, and I would have liked more.
I really liked that this book had no romance, something that's rather rare in YA. There's nothing wrong with romance, and I read tons of YA fantasy with heavy romantic elements, so obviously, I have no issue with it, but this book is really about a mother/daughter relationship, and a romance was unnecessary.
This book has a really perfect ending. I often feel that book endings don't live up the promise of the rest of the book, but I have no issues here. The resolution was exactly what the story needed.