Alice in Wonderland plus Dark Fairytales conjures up some expectations. Action, fun magic, meaningful fairy tales.
That’s what The Hazel Wood promises. It’s what I expected.
But that’s not what I read. Maybe this review is going to sound ranty? Ok, it’s probably going to sound ranty.
There’s certain crimes books can’t get away with. Boring is at the top of the list, am I right? Boring books are the worst. Problematic books are also on the list. The Hazel Wood has both strikes against it.
The Hazel Wood counts as the MOST boring book I’ve read in 2018. This review will break that thought down, hopefully without giving away major spoilers. Though, this book is so slow, and tedious, there’s practically nothing to spoil. *frustrated tears*
What I really can’t believe, is how hyped this book is. Book boxes are probably sending it out in February & it seems to be a big hit. I was trying to decide whether I should kindly rate this book 2 or 3 stars because it’s a slightly interesting idea and popular.
But I can’t get over the major problem I have with the premise. This book gets away with blatant abuse. Not abuse dealt out by a villain. The main character is manipulative and abusive, and we’re suppose to ignore her behavior. Even writing that statement is painful to me.
I simply don’t understand why such a hyped book is allowed to get away with these basic problems?
Most of the time I try to be temperate, even kind with my reviews. I’m not attempting that today. I’m just listing my major problems, and yes, I’m a bit salty. (Also, annoyed because this book was major problematic and I’m publishing this instead of a review for a book I enjoyed? But I felt I needed to share this ASAP before people start reading the Hazel Wood)
The Hazel Wood by Mellissa Albert
Release Date – January 30, 2018
Synopsis from Goodreads
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.
Now, I’m trying to hold back on completely ranting. As I said, trying. The Hazel Wood makes it hard not to rant.
Weird, Just Really Weird Relationships
The very first thing I noticed was the weird mother-daughter relationship. Alice calls her mom by her first name, and that instantly was weird.
If it was explained, I might not think it was weird.
I’ve seen characters call their parents by their first name before, but it needs an explanation. Like Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. We’re told within 5 paragraphs that Eustace’s parents believed that using titles was outdated.
No explanation here. In fact, Alice doesn’t bother explaining much of anything
But we’re not given any insight into Ella and Alice’s relationship. Just a weird dynamic.
Alice’s relationships with other people. She doesn’t like anyone? Doesn’t have any friends? This kid needs counseling.
I feel like this a really, super duper cheap way to write off side characters. It’s also a way for Alice to excuse her anger and manipulation.
One dimensional characters
Alice – Boy, oh, boy. Alice was the most dull narrator I have yet to read. She goes on weird narrative loops, that don’t make much sense to the story. I had a hard time following her train of thought for much of the book.
Since she’s the narrator, her unreasonable behavior is brushed aside. That makes me grit my teeth. Oh, I fly into fits of rage occasionally. No big deal. Yeah, I randomly tried to kill everyone one time. Don’t worry, I’m just mad. I don’t know why, I just am. Deal with it.
Are you kidding me???
Ellery – Could we have made Ellery the narrator? That would have helped SO MUCH. He’s actually slightly interesting. And he’s helpfully pointing out that Alice is not OK. It’s not normal to be ok with people flying into stupid fits of rage.
Does Alice respect his opinions? Nope, and I quote Alice, “Oh my god, Ellery. Go get a liberal arts degree.”
What does that even mean? How is that an insult? Why? Just more abuse, <see below point>
Also, the side characters are cardboard thin. Or Alice just completely ignores them, so we don’t get to know them at all.
Unexplained Anger, Bordering on Abuse
I’ll go into why this really, really bothers me in my last point. But for now, I’m going to say this.
People should have reasons for being angry. Don’t just tell me it’s part of who they are. And then let them get away with practically anything, “Because I can’t helping being mad.”
Also, small spoiler. But a character threatened people with a gun and NOTHING was done about that. Are you kidding me?
Just dropping gun violence into a story for NO REASON. And then doing NOTHING about it. I don’t even know what to say.
SLOW, SLOW, SLOW
I don’t know why we spent half the story hanging out in NYC. And the other half on a very tedious car trip. Neither the trip or time in the city added much depth to the story. (Though it’s hard to find any depth to begin with)
Once we reached the Hinterland, things technically picked up. But I looked down when the story reached the Hinterland, and I was 75% done. Barely reached the cool, weird story place, and book DONE.
That was a ripoff.
And when I say technically picked up, I mean a headache of time jumps, half fleshed out characters, and we maybe met a villain?
Though who is the real villain? I’m calling the phsyco angry Alice or the guy threatening gun violence the villain.
Also, we read more of Alice’s prejudice and general rudeness. I’m also sick at how she treats these characters, calling them fat, ugly, dirty, washed out.
The Actual Premise
^Official Rant Moment^
A story teller that creates horrible stores about abusers. But that’s ok, because these are Dark Fairytales.
I hate abuse, ok? Dark things happen, believe me, I know.
But why are you writing dark stuff just for the sake of being dark??? This is extremely personal to me. Shock value writing make me sick.
I don’t want to be simply shocked by evil. I’ve experienced evil up close and personal in my life. I know what it is to fight PTSD, Reactive Detachment Disorder & all kinds of abuse.
I love characters who go through horrible things and come out stronger. This is part of my life story. It’s part of who I am.
But if you’re just throwing people into a mess, just for the sake of giving your readers chills, I AM MAD.
I don’t have a problem with bad things. But give characters the moral strength to fight bad things.
Alice doesn’t fight in this story. She nearly kills her friend while reacting from senseless anger, and is just plain cruel most of the time. Because the story teller created that story for her.
Are you serious? Are you kidding me? She gets away with violence bordering on abuse, just because that’s her story?
Sorry if that’s incredibly ranty, but I just couldn’t stand that premise.
I’m posting this review before I even get a hard copy of this book. Because I have so many problems with the characters and premise. By posting this review early, I don’t get to share cute pictures featuring the book. But after writing all my thoughts down, you can imagine I don’t want to feature cute pictures of this book AT ALL.
I’m almost 100% certain this book is being featured in several book boxes in February. Which is disappointing for me, because I subscribe to several of these boxes.
While I don’t want to insist everyone boycott this book, I’m genuinely baffled why this book is popular.
At this point, I don’t see anything redeeming in the story. It’s painful to even think through the story line.
I appreciate authors and the work Melissa Albert put into writing this story. I hope her next project is more fleshed out, considerate of abuse survivors, and a much better book.
Also, here’s a review from Destiny @ Howling lIbraries that is super helpful about the flawed writing style and abusive narrative.
ARC copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
Have you read The Hazel Wood? Do you enjoy reading Dark Fairytales? Are you a fan of Alice in Wonderland?
How do you review problematic books?