Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Summary: “Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.” (Summary found on Goodreads).
The Hazel Wood is weird and I feel like there’s no better way to say it than that, honestly. I think I anticipated it being more magic-realism like, but it felt too grounded in reality for that. So I’m not entirely sure what genre I would put it in, something in between urban fantasy and magic realism.
Anyway, there’s three main reasons this got three stars: the writing, the plot twist, and Alice’s personality.
In my opinion, the writing was mediocre. Sometimes it was written well and interesting, but at other points, it was cheesy and disjointed. She went into lo
ng tangents about things I didn’t find important, but were also written in really strange ways. I think it was trying to hard, honestly, like she was overcompensating for a less interesting and atmospheric writing style. For the most part, the writing kept me intrigued and interested, but I think it was fairly obvious this is Melissa Albert’s first book. But I also think she has the ability to improve, which is a good sign.
The plot twist I can’t specifically say, but it felt extremely out of character. Unfortunately, it also didn’t really get resolved at the ending either, and Alice and Finch act as though it never happened. This really irritated me because it was such a pivotal point in the arc of their characters and their friendship, so I thought they’d touch upon it more. I didn’t honestly think the plot twist made any sense at all (so I can safely say I did not see it coming), and I’m still upset. I don’t actually know why it was necessary, because I think there could have been alternative ways of bringing Alice to the Hazel Wood.
Lastly, Alice was very, dare I say, “not like other girls”. She prided herself in being wholesome and all that, while trashing on her step-sister who wore a lot of lipstick and wasn’t as intelligent. It felt very much like fake-feminism to me. I really, really hate the “not like other girls” trope because women are supposed to support each other and build each other up. We’re not enemies and we’re not better than each other for being less stereotypically female. We support each other for who we are, whether that be feminine, less feminine, promiscuous, into make-up, smart, and whatnot. So I really, really, didn’t appreciate Alice. She did go through character development and I think somewhere toward the ending she realized how absolutely selfish and conceited she was, but I wished she never started out that way. I’m kind of tired of the terrible-person-becomes-a-somewhat-decent-human-being development. When I think of character flaws, I think of things that don’t make me seethe with anger at another, but maybe…wish they were slightly different, like someone who cares too much about other people and not enough about themselves or someone who’s prideful. In my opinion, Alice wasn’t redeemable, and she sure didn’t deserve the precious human that is Finch.
(Speaking of which, I love Finch).
So I think that sums up why it went down two stars, but as for the things I loved…
The plot was fascinating. It’s unique to anything I’ve ever read and had so many quirks to it, I couldn’t help but feel drawn into the story constantly. Sure, it was weird, and totally unlike anything else I’ve ever read, but I loved it for that. The last half was especially better and I almost considered giving it four stars until we got to the very messy plot twist.
Also, it was devoid of romance, which I thought was really interesting! I kind of expected something to come between Alice and Finch, but it was really freeing for nothing to happen with them. Though, I think Alice wanted to, but it was nice to see it unreciprocated.
Anyway, I think it was a really interesting debut and I’m looking forward to seeing where Albert goes with her books! It had its flaws, but it wasn’t a complete mess, and had enough redeemable qualities for three stars.