The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

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

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Expéry

The Little Prince, known as Le Petit Prince in France, is a best-selling novella by French aristocrat and writer Antoine de Saint Expéry. The narrator, a pilot who crashes in the Sahara Desert, is repairing his plane as he is approached by a young boy, the little prince. The prince claims to come from an small asteroid, where he lives with a rose that he loves dearly, and the little prince wants to explore the universe..

The prince first asks the pilot to draw him a sheep, but the pilot is not able to draw a satisfactory sheep for the prince, so he merely draws a box and tells the prince that the sheep he desires is hidden inside. Over the course of a week, while the pilot fixes his plane, the little prince recounts his interesting life story. The prince says he has visited six planets on his journey, which each housed one person: a king, narcissist, alcoholic, businessman, lamplighter, and finally, the last planet had a geographer. The prince also tames a fox, which teaches him that important things can only be seen with one’s heart, not one’s eyes. The book has quite an interesting end: the prince supposedly commits suicide by letting a snake bite him, but claims that he is returning home to his asteroid. The prince finally tells the narrator that it will look like he has died, for his body is too heavy to bring with him. However, the next day, the pilot is unable to locate the little prince’s body.

Ultimately, The Little Prince is a very interesting and touching story with deep lessons behind it. The six people the prince met on the planets each represent a different negative aspect of society, and the reader is left to conclude whether the prince returned home to his rose or died. The Little Prince can be enjoyed by all people of all ages, and it has a different meaning and interpretation for everyone.

-Josh N.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Expéry  is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library.

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Have you ever imagined the fairy tales you read as a child having different endings, different villains, different heroes? Have you ever wondered how Ursula became so evil, why kings like to assign three impossible tasks to win their daughters’ hand in marriage, or if the Minotaur was really the monster he was accused of being?

Though inspired by fairy tales, mythology, and classic stories, the six stories in Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns go beyond the basic tales. They are all short stories written in the style of a fairy tale. Although these stories are set in the same world as Leigh Bardugo’s other novels, they made sense even though I hadn’t read any of her other work (now, after reading The Language of Thorns, I look forward to reading Leigh Bardugo’s other books).

Leigh Bardugo creates such a detailed, beautiful, and sometimes dangerous world, and in it she expands upon and adds her own ideas to well-known tales. These stories are elegant and some are a bit creepy (if I had known this before reading, I may not have picked up the book, but now I am glad I did–I really enjoyed reading this book despite the darker parts), and the excitement of the stories combined with the amazing writing makes the book so hard to put down.

I loved how each of the stories had a twist at the end—maybe the villain in a story was not the same character in the original fairy tale (or someone you hadn’t even considered) or the real source of the conflict was an immense surprise. These stories did not always end with a happily ever after, and although I do like happy endings, this was a refresher from the widely expected endings of fairy tales. It made the stories a bit more exciting and unpredictable.

Some of the parts I loved most about this book were the illustrations and borders created by Sara Kipin. At the start of each story there are one or two small illustrations in one corner or part of the page, and as the story continues, new images that connect to the story are added on to the illustrations. At the end of each story you can almost see the tale in the pictures that make up the border. There is also one big picture at the end of each story that shows a scene in the tale. The pictures are beautiful, so thought out, and I really liked seeing the story show through them.

If you are a fan of fantasy, fairy tales, or even just someone looking for fascinating tales to read, I would definitely recommend this book. Not only is the writing magical and detailed, but the world, characters, and illustrations are so well-developed and seem to fit together wonderfully. However, be warned: in this collection of tales the faint may not always be as they seem, and the real villains may have a story of their own.

– Mia T.

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

To touch, to see, to hear, are all senses given to us. What is not given to us, through birth, is the power to feel. Feeling is something humans pick up on through their surroundings and their journey through life. Being 15 years old, I have not begun to feel, until I had read The Little Prince.

Teaching us the lessons of ignorance through adults and helping us understand that keeping some part of an inner child is valid to survive through life, this story by the talented Antoine de Saint-Exupery, opens with a pilot who crashes into the middle of the desert and soon meets a blonde-headed boy, with eyes filled not with tears, but of innocence.

Realizing, he is stuck and has nothing better to do, the pilot begins to ask questions about this strange young boy, until it is revealed that this boy is from a planet far from here and is the prince of that planet (hence the title). As I read further into this book, I had realized that to repel misery from looking for you for company, that you should have a heart. Though some may argue that having a heart makes one more vulnerable, it also makes one get out of bed every morning, smile, and most of all find purpose in life.

As I have stated earlier, this book does teach to keep some part of your inner child, what I mean is that children normally have fuller, more giving hearts than adults, which is why they are so much happier. All in all, to live is to be happy and to be happy you need a heart, which is why I love this book so much, because I now know how to fully live my life.

-Kimi M.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library