An outlier from the usual fairy-tale-based fiction, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is a unique, compelling book with twenty-first century references and a search for a mysterious, magical wood. Both the title and the cover intrigued me into picking up the book. I read the synopsis, which also seemed intriguing. But when I began to read, I was pulled into a story that I hadn’t quite anticipated–though it was still quite intriguing.
I’ve found that most books based on fairy tales have the protagonist enter the fairy tale world within the first half of the book (if they aren’t there already). However, The Hazel Wood is not based mainly in the fairy tale world, but on a search to find it. The novel begins similarly to a realistic fiction novel with a main character named Alice Proserpine. She and her mother, Vanella (Ella), are constantly on the road, moving from town to town. Alice lives with an unease; her memories seem off, as if she doesn’t fully fit into the world.
Unsettling events seems to follow the mother and daughter. Alice doesn’t know why, but she does know that her mother refuses to speak about her mother–Alice’s grandmother–Althea Proserpine.
Althea Proserpine is the reclusive author of the book of fairy tales Tales from the Hinterland. It’s a difficult book to get a copy of, but its fans are extreme. Alice has never been allowed to read the book, and has only snuck in a few lines from a story called “Alice Three-Times”.
When Alice’s mother receives a letter saying that Althea has passed away, she seems to relax. However, just when she marries and they finally slow down, Ella disappears. Alice, who has been struggling with going to a school full of rich kids (her step-father lives in a rich neighborhood and was able to find her a place in the school), must take on the much larger problem of finding her mother. She and an extreme fan of her grandmother’s stories named Ellery Finch begin a search for Althea’s estate, the Hazel Wood, which is just the place where Ella ordered Alice not to go.
During their search, Ellery and Alice notice characters from Tales from the Hinterland who have somehow left their world, and Ellery tells Alice parts of Althea’s stories, which are horrific and evil and not at all happily-ending.
Sprinkled with references to our popular culture, The Hazel Wood takes place mostly in the modern world, and is understandable for a young adult audience. I liked how Melissa Albert uniquely did not embellish the story with unrealistic romance or happy endings, which made the story more realistic: Alice’s stepsister is not ugly or really unkind to her, not everyone leaves the Hazel Wood, and the protagonists of some fairy tales are evil.
The Hazel Wood is a wonderful book to read if you are searching for a non-cliché young adult novel that puts an eerie spin on fairy tales.
– Mia T.
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.