Review: By the end of 2017 people who like to be in-the-know were already talking about The Hazel Wood and it wasn't even published yet. The book seemed to be on eveyone's list of books they were looking forward to in 2018. I am always shocked when people seem to know more about an unpublished book than I do about books which have been around for years, but that it beside the point. Because of all the pre-excitement, I added The Hazel Wood to my reading list, too. Heck, I didn't want to miss out of the best book of 2018, if indeed it was the best book. When it was my turn for the library copy, I made a quick jaunt to pick it up before leaving on a short trip/family reunion. Before I settled down to read I went to Goodreads to add it to my account and couldn't help noticing that it only had 3.65 stars. That is pretty low for "the best book of the year." I dug a little deeper, (I know. I shouldn't have) and discovered that a whole bunch of readers hated the book. H.A.T.E.D. it. I was shocked. Should I abandon it now or read on in hopes I was among those who liked it. I opted for the latter choice and that was a good decision. I actually liked the book a lot.
There are a lot of similarities between The Hazel Wood and Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland. Many are no-brainers. Alice/Alice; Wonderland/Hinterland; they both travel through a door or hole to gain access to the world; once there, everything is distorted---time, space, odd characters. Though Alice in Wonderland has its dark moment, Hazel Wood is almost completely dark, creepy dark. It is as if the author wanted to rework the old fairy tale and make it as sinister as she could.
Perhaps this is the rub. Maybe all those folks who were excited about the book really just wanted a fairy tale. You know the kind that start with Once Upon a Time and end with They Lived Happily Every After. Though most fairy tales have dark portions and scary aspects, they also include positive aspects: Snow White is happy living with the dwarfs; Cinderella has fun at the ball; the ugly duckling is actually a swan! Caitlin Paxson, writing a review for NPR points out that
"There is never a moment where we are allowed to look around the Hinterland and enjoy it. We don't get to wonder at its magics, or see any of its stories that have happy endings. And to me, that is the true power at the heart of fairy tales and beloved childhood fantasy books alike: They show us how to win against the dark" NPR.I was all caught up in the action, adventure, chases, and near-misses as I read the book. I cheered for Alice to find and free her mother. I was enamored with the story in front of me, but if I step back and look at it through the lens provided by Ms. Paxson, I have to stop and agree. Many researchers over the years have talked about the value to reading fairy tale to children...so they learn that good triumphs over evil. Perhaps they provide children with the solace to believe in a better future. And The Hazel Wood? Does this story fulfill that requirement of fairy tales? I'll leave that for you to answer for yourself, which means you'll have to read the book to decide. Perhaps what you will decide it that the book didn't end up the way you wanted but it ends the way Alice needed.
btw- My daughter, who read the book right after I finished it, LOVED it and she is much more "into" fairy tales than I am.