Melissa Albert’s YA fantasy The Hazel Wood is an acquired taste

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The Hazel Wood Melissa AlbertTHE HAZEL WOOD, by Melissa Albert, Flatiron Books, Jan. 30, 2018, Hardcover, $16.99 (young adult)

Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood reads and feels like two separate books, which makes it a little bit difficult to review. Especially since I enjoyed the second half much more than the first.

The story follows 17-year-old Alice who lives with her mother in her stepfather’s upscale apartment. She attends an exclusive private school. Her life appears perfect. Except it’s not. This is the longest Alice and her mom have ever stayed in one place. Most of Alice’s life has been spent on the road, bad luck nipping at their toes as they move from place to place.

Things changed when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of dark fairy tales, The Hinterland, dies alone. That’s when they set down roots. And that’s when things go terribly, terribly wrong. Someone who claims to be from the Hinterland kidnaps Alice’s mother.

With little to go on, Alice follows her gut and sets out for the Hazel Wood, her late grandmother’s estate. Joining Alice is Finch, a classmate and super fan of The Hinterland. Despite questionable motives, Alice has no choice but to trust Finch, who knows way more about her grandmother’s life and literature than she does. But at what cost?

The Hazel Wood is very dark, although there’s a spark in the second half that lifts some of that weightiness considerably.

The first part of The Hazel Wood takes place in the real world. Alice is always on edge, and there’s danger lurking around every corner. As Alice’s story unfolds, we’re also exposed to The Hinterland, which is a compilation of unpleasant fairy tales. The pacing here, despite the need for immediacy feels anything but urgent, even though the content is compelling.

Once Alice reaches the entrance to the real Hinterland, the story takes on a new tone. The world Alice enters is full of vivid color and texture. You immediately feel transported. The pacing picks up and so, quite frankly, does the plot. It takes a long time to get there, but once you do, you’re rewarded.

The Hazel Wood is an odd mix of reality and fantasy that’s an acquired taste. It’s a bit long and drags in places, but in the end, it did hold my attention. I’d check this one out from the library before purchasing it.

© 2018, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved.

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About Author

Jessica Harrison is the main reviewer behind Cracking the Cover. Prior to creating Cracking the Cover, Jessica worked as the in-house book critic for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City. Jessica also worked as a copy editor and general features writer for the paper. Following that, Jessica spent two years with an international company as a social media specialist. She is currently a freelance writer/editor. She is passionate about reading and giving people the tools to make informed decisions in their own book choices.

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