What I Just Read: The Hazel Wood
By: Josh O'Shea, Young Adult Librarian
One of the many wonders of fiction is that it can give you an experience you didn’t know you needed. It places you in the shoes of characters who are nothing like you, whose lives are completely unlike yours, and who have experiences you’ll never have. And it shouldn’t be too strange to read that someone wrote a character who wanted to be in a story that was like that; this shouldn’t be strange because plenty of readers want to experience what fictional characters experience. The “kid goes to new world through wardrobe” cliché won’t ever get old because we wish it would happen to us in one way or another. One reason I loved Melisa Albert’s The Hazel Wood is because its characters go searching for Fairy Land, and Fairy Land pulls them in. (“Fairy Land” means somewhere other than the world we’re in now, with a different history, different physics, different rules, and such.) More than that, the characters become doors through which Fairy Land leaks into the real world (to get an idea of this, see page 246).
When I read fiction, even if the characters or worlds are radically different than mine, I can always make analogies within the books that draw me in and help me make sense of my own world. In The Hazel Wood, Finch tells Alice about his traumatic childhood that drove him to read the “all ends nice and neat” types of stories. He wanted the radical difference from his own world because he wanted a world that was better than his. This is called escapism, which used to be a dirty word for me. “Don’t you need to take a heroic stance in your life instead of trying to run away?”, I would wonder. But eventually I realized if you’re in a bad place, you try to get out or fix it.
Finch’s preference changes; he doesn’t want sparkling endings anymore. In The Hazel Wood, he wants to read the darker fairy tales in Tales of Hinterland (classic fairy tales re-written by Alice’s grandmother) where not everyone survives, or they dealt with problems longer than the book had pages. Finch needed his stories to start to parallel his real life, especially the darkness. In the darker fairy tales, the tragedy had meaning: someone caused it. Maybe the bad guy’s motivations weren’t easy to understand, but Finch (and we) could understand “this guy is bad and that’s why he does bad things, so bad things happen.” Finch was attracted to Tales of Hinterland because he saw senseless struggle around him and wanted to know someone else acknowledged the chaos. Even though Tales of Hinterland didn’t have any light or reason, Alice showed him how to be logical and provide reason in his own life. Alice gets pulled into a story that sucks the life out of her, and she worries that she can’t push back against fate. But she tries. And when fate overwhelms her, she needs friends to help her push back. While it is good to be independent, it’s impossible to do everything on our own.
In my opinion, we need to have our own experiences mirrored in fiction because we’re always looking for ways to better understand ourselves and our world. We look at the pain around us and want a story without pain, or where all pain is healed. We look at the pain around us and wonder if there’s a reason for it, wonder how we fight back or fix it. I believe that’s one reason why there are so many books: there are endless stories to be told and heard that cause the reader to act. We are the door between fiction and reality; the ideas we encounter inflict different emotions and influence our actions. These in turn shape our lives and who we choose to be.Tags: book review, books, Josh O'Shea, teens, The Hazel Wood, What I Just Read