Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: Wildwood by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis

Reviewed by Christina

Published: 2011

It's about: 12-year-old Prue lives in Portland, OR, not far from a forbidding, fantastical forest called the Impassable Wilderness. One day she takes her baby brother, Mac, to a park where she watches, horrified and helpless, as a murder of crows lift him into the air and carry him into said Impassable Wilderness.

Brave and spunky Prue heads into the forest to rescue Mac. Curtis, a nerdy boy from her school, follows her. They discover an entire world inside the woods, complete with anthropomorphized animals, longstanding rivalries, history and danger.

Basically it's The Labyrinth + Narnia + The Fantastic Mr. Fox. And, by the way, Colin Meloy is the singer/songwriter for The Decemberists.

I thought: So. I don't usually read that much YA, and I definitely am not prone to picking up fantasy-type books. But last week, as I was chasing my children around the library, I noticed this chunky, artful-looking book displayed prominently on the shelf. Then I noticed the author. Then I read the back jacket, with positive reviews from Lemony Snicket, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Michael Chabon. And, rather impulsively given the FIFTY (seriously! I just counted!) books sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, I brought Wildwood to the circ desk.

And folks, I do not regret it! I really had fun with this fast-paced, clever, and well-written piece of fantastical fiction. When I do read my annual fantasy novel I'm always amazed at the creativity that goes into this type of writing. I don't have quirky ideas in my head (alas!) and I am not a storyteller. So when I read a book that creates and describes an entire world, I am really impressed. It is fun to get lost in an adventure in a strange new place, and that's definitely what happened to me with this book. Carson Ellis' simple yet specific illustrations made it even easier to visualize everything.

One thing I'm not sure about: the intended audience. Curtis and Prue are eleven and twelve, respectively, but I'm not sure Meloy's style will really appeal to that age group. He gets a little carried away with detail sometimes, and there are a fair number of unusual vocabulary words in this text; words that I had to look up. But then, maybe I'm not giving middle-schoolers enough credit. And I'd much rather see a book that expects more of its audience than one that is dumbed down for kids. So I'm not really listing this as a flaw. I'd love to hear what a 12-year-old reader thinks of this book.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf!

Warnings: Some fantasy war violence.

Favorite excerpts: "My dear Prue, we are the inheritors of a wonderful world, a beautiful world, full of life and mystery, goodness and pain. But likewise are we the children of an indifferent universe. We break our own hearts imposing our moral order on what is, by nature, a wide web of chaos. It is a hopeless task."

What I'm reading next: Emmeline by Charlotte Smith (for the Gothic Literature Tour)