January Book Review: The Hazel Wood

Hey guys!
As some of you may have seen in my 2019 goals post, I have challenged myself to read at least two books a month: one poetry book, and one novel. This challenge is in hopes to break me out of the reading slump I've been in for so long. And in order to keep myself accountable, I'm going to start reviewing the books that I read right here!
This month, I read Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sebrina Benaim and The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. I released a small review of Depression and Other Magic Tricks on my Instagram story, and I plan on writing a full review of it later. But today, we're focusing on YA.

I wanted to love this book. I so, so, SO badly wanted to love this book. The cover is beautiful, the plot sounded incredible, and the first few pages totally hooked me when I skimmed them in the book aisle at Target. It seemed like it would be right up my alley--but, I was wrong. Let's get into why.



Seventeen-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.

It sounds amazing, right? It sounds so amazing. I love this book just based on this summary alone. I'm honestly so sad that it didn't end up being what I wanted it to be.


I wanted to love these characters. There were so many times where I thought I could love them, but overall, I just couldn't.
The main character, Alice, is just . . . okay? But nothing about her makes me want to root for her, and frankly, nothing about her makes me want to like her. She's unstable, unreliable, unpredictable, and pretty dang rude. There are small bits of her that stand out to me and make me think "okay, maybe you aren't so bad" but overall, the bad outweighs the good and she kind of annoyed me through the whole book.
Finch, Alice's classmate, is one of those characters who seems like they have the potential to be amazing and dorky and lovable and then he's just . . . not. There are a lot of things about Finch that made me like him more than Alice, but there were other times where he would say things or do things and it would completely jar me from my interpretation of him as a character.
I honestly have no idea what kinds of people these two characters are supposed to be. There was nothing about these two that gripped me and made me fully understand their thoughts, personalities, and intentions. In fact, one of the big twists in the book didn't even faze me because I was more focused on the fact that I should have been caring about what was happening to these characters, but I just didn't. 


The plot itself isn't bad. Alice's mother is kidnapped by the creatures in her late grandmother's dark fairytales. Alice and Finch must venture to find the Hazel Wood, where they think Alice's mother is being held.
What I hated about the plot was that everything just seemed to . . . happen. Alice and Finch's car was destroyed, but there just so happened to be a bus that took them exactly where they needed to go. Oh, and only one bus runs a day, but they just so happened to learn about the bus and get there just before it left. There were creepy moments and interesting parts, but for the most part everything was very confusing and I found myself desperately wanting to just get to the end so I could find out what happened. That was the most annoying part for me--the plot itself hooked me to the point that I wanted to get to the ending, but the path to the ending was frustrating and there were multiple instances where I considered not finishing this book. But I had to know what happened, so I pressed on.


This is the one of the biggest reasons I did not quit this book. Once Alice reaches the Hazel Wood, the world just blossoms. Melissa Albert's style of writing opens up into this incredibly rich and beautiful prose of descriptions that reminded me a bit of Alice in Wonderland, which in turn reminded me of my own WIP. However, this world and writing doesn't start until the end of the book, and there's only a few short chapters of it. And despite its beauty, the world of the Hazel Wood is extremely jarring. It is literally another world, and there were so many different place names and new characters popping up that I was more frustrated than intrigued. "There's only two chapters left in this book; why are all of these characters just now showing up?"


I did like the twist where Alice was actually the character in Alice Three-Times. I saw it coming, but I didn't expect it in the way that it came. And the idea that Alice now has to go through her own story and then try to rewrite it is fascinating, but I felt that the actual breaking of the story was a bit rushed and confusing.
But my #1 least favorite twist of all time was Finch's death, for two reasons.
First, I didn't care that he died. At all. I wasn't really sure why he died, why they slit his throat, what was happening, etc. It was very fast and confusing. Finch wasn't very likable from the start, so his death just . . . didn't bother me.
Second, he was never actually dead. I saw it coming, again, but it was just . . . not very realistic, I guess? Finch was killed when someone slit his throat. But all of a sudden he's back to save Alice, and his explanation is literally that the bad guys didn't cut deep enough like they thought they did, and someone found him and stopped the bleeding so PHEW it was close but he didn't die.
It was so unrealistic and honestly felt a little cheat-y. Was there really no other way to have him survive? Because this felt a little like the author just took the easy way out.
And then, AND THEN just when you think Finch and Alice are going to run off happily ever after because that's what the book seems to set you up for and Alice literally has dreams of dancing with and kissing Finch, THE BOY TELLS HER THERE'S ANOTHER GIRL? And then he just leaves and they never see each other again.
. . . okay?

Top 3 likes:

1. The world of the Hinterland was beautifully written and whimsical in all the right ways
2. The idea of Alice being a storybook character and having to rewrite her own story is clever, intriguing, and unique
3. The stories from Tales from the Hinterland were deliciously dark and perfectly written and I just want that entire book to be real (I JUST LOOKED IT UP AND APPARENTLY IT WILL BE OKAY YES THIS IS GOOD)

Top 3 irks:

1. Alice wasn't described until over halfway through the book and therefore her description didn't match the one I had in my head (isn't that like . . . a big writing no-no??)
2. Lots of internal monologue from Alice that I found myself skimming because I didn't care about her very much, so I didn't care about her thoughts.
3. The Story Spinner is an extremely important thing but wasn't described until the end of the book and it was really confusing.

Overall, I have such mixed feelings about this book. I love, love, love the concept and the uniqueness and the fairytale elements, but the characters, twists, and plot points in general made this book a very frustrating read. The sequel to The Hazel Wood is said to release this year, and at this point I'm not sure if I'll be reading it. 

My rating: 3/5 stars

Did you read The Hazel Wood? Did you like it? Do you agree/disagree with anything I said?