The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

SynopsisSeventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Review: I'm a sucker for fairy tales, and I wanted to love this book. The characters were the biggest downfall for me. Alice was pretty unremarkable. Finch had the potential to be a favorite character. I appreciated how he was a bit of a nerd and really into the stories from the Hinterland. Still, something about his character rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not going to say too much because I don't want to spoil what happens later, but it's one of those things I saw coming. There wasn't much else in the way of side characters. The story focused on Alice and Finch, but neither of them felt terribly fleshed out. There also wasn't much said about Finch's background. We know that he's black, but that's about it and it's honestly hard to remember that fact throughout the book because he acts more like white people I've been around than black people. There was another scene that led to a potential f/f relationship in the past, but it was never really explored past a slight mention. It seemed like there were little teasers of diversity, but nothing fully discussed which was a bummer.

The story was engaging, and creepy. I thought that was rather well done. The mystery of the Tales from the Hinterlands kept me intrigued, and I found myself reading this entire book in a single sitting. We do get an idea of what some of these stories contained, but it was done in a weird way. Alice wants to read these stories to see if there's some kind of clue to help her find her mom, but there doesn't seem to be any way for her to access them. This leaves it up to Finch, super fan, to convey some of the stories to her. I wish Melissa would have played with this idea a little more, how Alice never reads the text of the stories herself. She always hears second-hand summaries of the stories from Finch. Maybe it's because I didn't trust Finch, but it could have made for some really interesting conflicts if Alice realized she might not be able to trust everything Finch says.

An interesting idea, but pretty flat characters.

3 howls