My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
It’s hard, isn’t it, to find you’re not at all the thing you thought you were? — Althea
The Hazel Wood is one of those books that you can see everywhere. It’s the most requested title on NetGalley, people have been raving about it on Instagram and BookTube since 2017, and apparently, Sony Pictures has purchased the film rights. I myself was affected by all the hype to the point that I persistently asked the publisher to give me a copy. When it finally arrived last Christmas, I was surprised by all the spectacular blurbs in the book. Popular authors, such as Stephanie Garber, Jennifer Niven, and Kristin Cashore loved it, so my already high expectations were intensified. Unfortunately, now that I’ve finished the book, I can’t help but wonder if it deserves a film adaptation.
The Hazel Wood is the story of Alice Proserpine, a girl who seems to never run out of bad luck. She and her mother (Ella) have spent most of their lives on the road in order to prevent misfortune from befalling others and themselves. Their circumstances become worse when Ella is kidnapped by someone who claims to come from the Hinterland, the fantastical world where Alice’s grandmother’s fairy tales are set. To save her mother, Alice must venture to the Hazel Wood, her grandmother’s mysterious estate.
Reading this book was similar to watching an episode or a season of Once Upon a Time. Alice’s world (New York?) was like Storybrooke, while the Hinterland was like the Enchanted Forest. Characters from the Hinterland were “breaching the barrier” and causing mayhem in the real world, and like OUAT’s Emma, Alice was the hero who belonged in both worlds. As a fan of OUAT, it was super easy for me to comprehend the world-building in The Hazel Wood. The similarities between the TV show and the book made my reading experience nostalgic and more interesting. However, since the book has been receiving much buzz, I expected it to be more original.
It must also be noted that The Hazel Wood had some tropes that were reminiscent of Frozen and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. For example, Alice had emotionally triggered ice magic like Elsa, and she suffered from gradual petrification like Anna. Moreover, just like Harry Potter, Alice could hurt beings from the Hinterland by merely touching them (i.e. their faces). I didn’t understand what exactly caused the latter phenomenon, but at least it wasn’t related to maternal sacrifice or whatnot. xD
One of the major plot twists in this book was utterly ineffective. You can call me jaded, but I didn’t believe for a second that Finch was dead. I also refused to accept that the author would dare to eliminate a colored protagonist, of all people. Anyway, Finch’s supposed death felt like an excuse to discontinue his character development in favor of Alice’s.
As for the side characters, most of them were underdeveloped. Hence, I could hardly connect with them or appreciate their significance. For instance, the villains, such as the “stalker boy” and Twice-Killed Katherine, seemed to be mere plot devices. After attempting to force Alice to commit suicide, they suddenly disappeared from the story as if the author had forgotten them. It was disappointing because they were actually very intriguing characters. I would have loved to learn more about them. 😦
Looking at the glass half-full, Alice was an admirable heroine. I liked that she stayed devoted to her mother even after she learned about her true identity. Alice also possessed a lot of inner strength, which helped her overcome emotional turmoil. The idea of losing Ella nearly crippled her, yet she always found her way back to the path toward her happy ending.
Furthermore, it was nice that this book featured a colored protagonist. Finch’s characterization provided an opportunity to reflect on the Black Lives Matter movement. Because of the color of his skin, Finch was afraid that pale-skinned police officers would treat him unfairly. To my delight, Finch ended up being Alice’s savior. Without him, she might’ve been stuck in the Hinterland and forever separated from Ella. Racism is still present in society nowadays, so I liked that The Hazel Wood did something to address the issue (and turn the tables). Who said colored characters couldn’t be heroes?
The last thing that I liked about The Hazel Wood was its dark and fantastic fairy tales: Alice-Three-Times and The Door That Wasn’t There. These stories were very enjoyable in spite of their not-so-happy endings. If the author published a collection of fairy tales someday, I would definitely buy it.
I did like The Hazel Wood, but it didn’t live up to the hype. This just goes to show that blurbs are not always good; they can make you have expectations that are likely not going to be met. You’ll probably enjoy this book a lot more if you go into it blind.