Alice lives on the road with her mom. They travel from city to city, state to state, running from what seems to be an unavoidable spell of bad luck. A flooded apartment, mysteriously killed landlords, motel fires. When Alice's grandmother, the infamous author of Tales from the Hinterlands, dies, Alice's mother believes their luck has changed. They settle down in New York, her mother gets married and Alice begins to experience real life. Unfortunately, their bad luck catches up to them sooner than expected. Alice's mother is kidnapped and everything seems to circle around her grandmother, the Hinterlands and her estate, The Hazel Wood.
I initially chose this book to read because of it's beautiful cover (seriously, look at that. It's art!) and the deliciously vague summary. I love a book that can pull me in with a couple of sentences and not spoil anything for me. I enjoy stumbling through the plot looking for clues and clear path, much like our protagonist. This book did not disappoint. I sat down and read it in a day, too drawn in by the story to want to do anything else. When I finally did put it down, I sighed, looked at my husband and said: "Isn't it lovely to read a good book."
Alice, the main character and narrator, is incredibly clear and bright on the page. Her voice is definite and unique. She's full of anger and curiosity and everything in between. She keeps herself at a distance from everyone else around her but holds the reader close. We're dropped into her mind immediately and don't let go. She has an authority and true sense of purpose that is sometimes lacking from first-person point of view. Through her eyes, we clearly see her mother, Ella, and her friend, Finch. They're just as sharp and understandable as Alice herself. They're also all well-rounded characters, Alice included, which is sometimes difficult to pull off with our protagonists. Each character is obviously flawed but that makes them relatable and easier to understand to the average reader.
As I hinted at before, the plot of the book is engulfing. I don't want to give away too much, but I was on the edge of my seat from the first page to the last. It's haunting and inviting and lovely in its own twisted way. Do be warned though, it is a long book. There were more than a few times that I thought we had to be closer to some sort of conclusion because we had already been through so much and the end seemed to be in sight, only to realize I was about halfway. It can be exhausting. I don't recommend tackling it in a day like I did unless you're too drawn in to pull yourself out. This book is best slowly digested and pondered before moving forward. What saved it from its dense nature is the incredible twists we take as we travel through. One or two I was able to predict, but on the whole, I was gasping and clutching my pearls at each new revelation. It helps that Melissa Albert is deadly with her use of tension.
I don't usually get to say this about the books I read, but this was a simply beautiful book to read. There were so many moments of just well written internal monologues of Alice examining her life and the world around her. These types of monologues are sometimes difficult to pull off, but Albert did it. I highlighted so many lines that made me pause and appreciate the level of craft that went into creating a book of this quality. It may be a young adult fantasy, but it reads like a character-driven literary work that I really admire.
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is a gorgeously written, hauntingly addictive and immensely satisfying read. If you're a fan of The Magicians and Tithe this is a must read for you. It's available to read on January 30th but you can pre-order it now through Amazon, Barnes & Nobel or ask your local bookstore to order it for you. You'll want to be the first of your friends to say you've read this book, trust me!