the hazel wood

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert 

I was instantly attracted to Albert's debut the moment Flatiron (consistently one of my favourite lines now) offered it for review. I glossed over the fact that it's being categorized as young adult, and now I'm glad I did. Again, as I've mentioned previously, I am in fact incredibly jealous of kids reading young adult fiction right now; there's so much excellence out there. I've absolutely nothing against YA and I've read some excellent YA; it's just that I tend towards darker adult books and I've been trying to not accept nearly so many advanced reader's copies the last few months, so had I realized when I requested this that it was YA, I might not have. 

But fortunately I did. Honestly, I'm torn a slight bit between 3 and 4 (goodreads) stars. But because I quite enjoyed it, this is a highly deserving debut, and because I can't quite articulate my reasons for my indecision, I'm hitting four stars. There was something not quite there that I wanted from The Hazel Wood but I can't quite say precisely what it is. Maybe because it is YA, it doesn't have quite the same level of darkness as I might have otherwise wanted? I'm not entirely sure that's it, though, because it actually is pretty gritty and deep shades of gray, and I've certainly read "adult" books that didn't live up as well as this one.

I believe it's more that I wanted more depth. More establishment of the relationship between the protagonist, Alice, and her mother early in the book so that I cared more that her mother disappeared (I'm not considering this a spoiler because it happens within the first chapter or two). More exploration of the both the "real" world and the world Alice enters while searching for her mother. More flashbacks or scenes where Alice's purported anger issues (which ultimately are intended to have bearing on the story) are exhibited or justified.  

However, I'm going for the four stars because ultimately I was invested and intrigued by the world and storyline (so clearly lovingly) created by Albert. I don't feel it's a spoiler to indicate that while searching for her mother, Alice enters an alternate world, and that world is lovely, sinister, and ugly and beautiful. I won't say much more, but I will say that I enjoyed the turns the book took (though I was at one point disorientingly confused as to why Alice wasn't more disorientingly confused). 

I love that readers of young adult have such a diverse and wide-ranging choice of novels for the last decade or more (I've guessing a large portion of the credit goes to J.K. Rowling). I imagine that had this novel been available to me when I was within that literal age range in which most young adult readers fall, I would've been fairly obsessed with it. As it is, I can absolutely recommend this first novel and I would also love the opportunity to read something by Albert geared towards adults (though will also keep her on my radar to see what else she does, regardless of the age range). Dark, magical, adventurous!

Please note that Flatiron Books provided an advanced copy and that The Hazel Wood will be released in the States on January 30, 2018. As well, there's a note in my advanced copy about the illustrations in the book. Although the cover is gorgeous, there aren't actually an interior illustrations in my copy, so I cannot comments on any within the published version.