I know that some people mentioned reading this book for Halloween Bingo 2018. It is definitely going to hit some bingo squares if you all are interested in reading this. You got "A Grim Tale," "Supernatural," "New Release", and I would argue "Suspense." Will have to check out the Goodreads tag on that later.
"The Hazel Wood" just didn't know what it wanted to be honestly. I think that the idea behind it sounded great. We have a teen girl (Alice) and her mother (Ella) constantly on the move. Bad luck seems to follow the two of them. Alice loves her mother, but often feels upset that her mother is estranged from Alice's grandmother, Althea Proserpine, a very famous and reclusive author. Althea wrote a dark fairy tale collection called "Tales from the Hinterland" that has gained a huge cult following with many fans trying to decipher the meaning behind Althea's tales. Althea is now in hiding in her home called the Hazel Wood. When Ella finally marries an awful man named Harold, she and Alice finally stay in one place in New York. When Alice starts to realize that all signs point to bad luck finding them again, she finds her mother kidnapped. Alice's stepsister tells her that her mother told her to stay away from the Hazel Wood. Of course Alice has no intention of doing that and goes on a quest to find and save her mother.
Sounds interesting right? Not really. The characters do not draw you in at all. Everyone feels rather flat and you can see plot points coming a mile away. We also get information dumps (I loathe that) and just some parts of this book that reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" (regarding certain characters--no spoilers) which left me with the feeling that nothing about this was fresh at all. Just felt like very familiar territory that had a lot of overwrought writing going on even when we get to the end of the book. And then Melissa Albert includes a scene involving Alice another character who is black and a police officer and I just don't know what in the world she was thinking there. I wanted to kick the crap out of Alice and she's a fictional character. She may have grown up poor, but that was some white privilege nonsense going on there that took me completely out of the book.
Alice is 17 when the story starts with the story going around in fits and starts. Instead of being a straight forward story, we hear about Alice and her mother Ella and them moving. Then we come to find out that Alice's mother has married. Then we find out she has a stepsister. Melissa Albert doesn't provide this information in a logical way. It just arrives a sentence, paragraph, or chapter after you start reading about something else. I can see why a lot of readers complained about the start of this book, because I had a hard time getting into it. Things don't get smooth until we have Ella kidnapped and Alice off to slay dragons (joking) with her classmate Ellery Finch. Some readers may argue that Albert includes a reason (you find out much later) why Alice may be hard to like and is so offputting to others. I just didn't care at that point and felt like it was too easy to handwave her being self involved for a good majority of this story.
Ellery Finch was actually more interesting to me though I didn't like this character either. Finch as Alice calls him for most of the story is the son of a rich man. His father is fairly absent and his stepmother wishes him gone. His mother was a famous model and loved Finch and then she died (suicide) when she realized that Finch's father had betrayed her. At least that is what I assume happened. Albert dances around things too much with this character. The main reason why Finch is important to Alice is that he has read Alice's grandmother book and she thinks that him knowing about the tales can give her insight into who kidnapped her mother and how to find the Hazel Wood.
There are other characters in this book, but they feel like footnotes. Alice's mother Ella is interesting, and what we hear about her it made me want to read more about her. Same with Althea. We just get some scenes here and there with Alice describing her mother and we hear how important her mother is to her. Althea sounds like an opportunistic person, but once again, we just know that based on what people tell Alice. I wanted to delve in more deeply with these characters.
The writing was too much at times. Not quite purple prose, but just had enough of it here and there that it turned me off. Also the main story with Alice is beyond boring. The only time I perked up is when we heard the tales. And we never hear all of them! We only hear about two tales, "Alice-Three-Times" and "The Door That Wasn't There."
The dialogue between Alice and Finch is just exhausting at times.
“No, my mom did. I’ll go first, so I can teach you.” He cleared his throat. “Okay, the first item in my memory palace is a … map of Amsterdam. Because Amsterdam is where I lost my, um, my virginity in a public park.”
He laughed self-consciously, like he was already rethinking his brag.
“So, A is for Amsterdam. Now you say mine, then do a B, with a memory attached.”
Why would you tell anyone this that you literally just started to even talk to a day or two ago?
He said it lightly, without emphasis, but I knew what he wanted. “You remember I’ve never met her, right?” I asked hotly. “Like, ever? Althea figures not at all into my life, and my mom hasn’t talked to her in sixteen years.” “What about when you were little? Where you grew up? What do you remember about that?”
I loathe Finch. No matter what Alice says he is so focused on Althea he isn't even listening to her saying nope never met her.
“Some bitch? She was my girlfriend for eight months. It’s so ugly when girls call each other that word.”
“Oh, my god, Finch, go get a liberal arts degree.”
This is the only time I laughed while reading this book. Finch is insufferable, but so is Alice.
And then of course we get into the car incident with Alice, the cop, and Finch and Alice just acted like a straight up ass.
“Car looks okay,” I said. “Was anyone hurt?”
“Sweetheart, I’m gonna need you to turn around now.”
The cop chewed on something, gum or the inside of his cheek.
“Son, please tell your girlfriend to turn her lights back on and turn the car around, before I write her up.” His voice was mechanical, the metallic eyes of his shades pointed toward Finch. The feeling started in my cheeks, like it always did, and flooded my skin with cold fire.
“You can talk to me,” I said. “I’m right here. Or were you under the impression that a woman can’t follow a simple command?“Just because we’re in whatever shitstain town is under your jurisdiction, it doesn’t mean you get to act like I’m a baby. How dare you treat me like a fuckin’ housewife!"
Cue fight between Finch and Alice and Alice acting like she's not privileged cause she's not rich. You wonder why Finch even puts up with Alice after this, but that all becomes clear later.
The book includes some drawings of things fairy tale-esque and also connects to the book, that was cool to look at. I know some readers mentioned the hard copy cover of this book was awesome. If I actually liked this book I would buy it just for the drawings and cover.
The setting of "The Hazel Wood" tries so hard to be dark and it just doesn't work. I don't want to get into spoiler territory here, but the world building in this book makes zero sense after a while and you just go with it.
The ending was a letdown. Honestly if you are going to do a dark fairy tale, this could/should have ended on a darker note. Albert backs off and throws something in the mix that made zero sense to get this book towards a conclusion. I don't like books that end in cliffhangers, but I do think the way this book ended just seemed like a cop-out for a sequel. Albert could have ended it a different way and then just had the next book follow up with Ella, Finch, etc. Or heck even someone totally new.