The Book List: The Hazel Wood

 

[this post may contain spoilers]

 

The Hazel Wood

by Melissa Albert

Alice and her mother, Ella, have been near transient for Alice’s whole life, pursued from place to place by the bad luck that has destroyed every ounce of stability they’ve managed to get their hands on.

When it finally seems that their long journeying may be over and they can take a rest and finally build a decently ordinary life, the bad luck returns in a flurry as Ella disappears amidst other strange occurrences and Alice is thrown into a new journey as she works tirelessly to find the mother who has always been there for her.

This book came highly recommended and now I must pass that recommendation on to you.

You see, I read The Hazel Wood in less than three days.

I am not a fast reader. I am in fact such a slow reader that when I recently finished Terry Pratchett’s Jingo a couple months ago it was after a full two year struggle to get through what was in fact a fairly good book about my favourite set of Discworld characters (the city watch).

A book really has to catch me in the first couple of pages if there is any hope at all of me getting through it. Let alone flying through during nap times, and even once – during a late chapter – a bathroom run.

While some readers have insisted that The Hazel Wood is some strange retelling of Alice in Wonderland, Albert herself has confirmed what I think obvious: that it is Not. She just likes the name Alice. Though, as she puts it, it is a ‘Loaded Name‘ when it comes to literary use. While there are references to the Carroll book within the dialogue and narrative, if anything, the latter half of The Hazel Wood resembles much more the trials of Through the Looking Glass. But it’s still not the main point of this incredible, original story.

Melissa Albert wove together this adventure mystery using every fairy tale element I could imagine to give us this masterpiece novel.

Either in obvious reference, allusion, or echoing taste just at the very tip of my tongue, Alice’s adventure seems to whisper of Harry Potter, Un Lun Dun, Perdido Street Station, Fables, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Silent HillOnce Upon a Time, Doctor Who, The True Meaning of Smekday/Home . . .

I think she must have read, in her lifetime, every book I’ve ever loved, and watched every fantasy tv series or movie I’ve ever enjoyed, because, stitched throughout The Hazel Wood were fragments, elements, flavours, and subtle (and not so subtle) pieces of literally every story that has ever captured my attention. As if this book, itself, like The Neverending Story, could read my inner depths and pull from them things I would recognize and relate to.

You know that part in Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets when Harry reaches for Riddle’s diary for the first time in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom and Ron stops him telling him it could be dangerous and lists all those confiscated books?

“And some old witch in Bath had a book that you could *never stop reading!* You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed.”

Well, he could easily have been talking about The Hazel Wood. It really was very difficult to pull myself away from it. It has a magic all its own.

I got my copy from my local library in the Teen Fiction section, so I suggest checking your local library for a copy.  The Hazel Wood is also available from various booksellers and inside some of those collection boxes you can subscribe to. It has been translated into several different languages. And I really think you should go read it.

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Half Moon

When I was four years old my family moved from Manhattan to a tiny upstate town along the Hudson River. The town, looking back, was shabby and odd, but it had some really special things about it.

We rented a neat house with an amazing view of the water and a garden along one side.

It wasn’t a long walk down the hill roads to the boatyard where the Clearwater Sloop docked during the fall and held pumpkin festivals and made stone soup, with the help, of course, of all attendees who brought vegetables and seasonings to add throughout the day.

In town there was a small bookstore with a permanent collection of toys where little kids could play while their parents looked for books. The little barn that moo’d when the door opened. The little stage with a turntable and curtain so you could put on little doll productions.

And nearby, a bakery.

You know how memories never seem quite as strong on their own? But add a scent or a piece of music and suddenly you could be right there, at some specific point in your past?

There is a rare occasion when I remember exactly the feeling of standing in that little bakery. Picking out a half moon cookie.

It tasted exactly how the bakery smelled.

 

Last week, while we were waiting for our Chinese food order, we stopped in the grocers  nextdoor to get a few things. While my husband ran after our laughing, running toddler, I wandered over to their bakery, where my father-in-law works nights, just to see what they had in their case. Not much at that time in the evening, but there was that smell.

That smell that five year old me encountered, picking out a half moon cookie, all those decades ago.

It’s magical what sense memory can do.

About a year ago, I started baking. Inspired by The Great British Baking Show, I decided I would try making things I never thought it would be possible for me to recreate.

Today, inspired by a tiny memory from what feels like a distant past, I made Half Moon Cookies.

 

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Who chokes up over a cookie?

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I guess I do.

 

If there is

if there is a toddler toy it is on the floor

if there is a cake in the oven the sink is full of bowls

if there is a toddler he is poised atop something high ready to leap

If the toddler is crying he was probably told not to climb on the dog

if there is a mommy she is tired and not as clean as she likes

if there is a dish it is probably dirty

if there is a daddy he is hard at work wishing he were home to get climbed on

if there is a radio it is turned up high tuned to classical music

if there is a mommy she is poised to catch the leaping toddler

if there is a mommy she is crying over the one time she didn’t catch him in time

if there is a toddler he was fine

if there is a counter top he can reach it

if there is a mommy she is ready for him to go take a nap

if there is a napping toddler there is a mommy wishing he were awake for her to hold.

if there is makeup it is probably smudged

if there is a dog he is probably unwalked and overfed

if there is hair it probably has something sticky in it

if there is a tower of anything it will be knocked over

if there is something that can be stacked it will be

if there is something really anything at all it will be lined up

if there is a door the toddler will beg to go out it

if there is a ball it will be thrown

if there is a scrambled egg it will also be thrown

if there is a tantrum mommy will eat chocolate alone in the kitchen sitting on the floor

if there is a mommy she will hold her baby tight

if there is a toddler he will smoosh his face against mommy’s as hard as he can

if there is a family they will love each other mess and all

 

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