The Hazel Wood

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother, Ella, have always "lived like vagrants, staying with friends till [their] welcome wore through at the elbows, perching in precarious places, then moving on." As they move, bad luck follows. But when a mysterious message arrives at their temporary home in New York City, telling them that Alice's grandmother Althea Proserpine has died, Ella and Alice think their luck may have changed. Althea, hidden away for years at her estate, the Hazel Wood, was the reclusive author of a book of dark fairy tales. This book, Tales from the Hinterland, has a cult following of "deep fan[s]"--readers so involved that they make desperate efforts to find their way into the Hinterland, the supernatural world where the stories are set. Alas, Alice and Ella's bad luck is not destined to evaporate. Ella disappears, leaving Alice a message: "stay the hell away from the Hazel Wood." In spite of this message, Alice determines to track her mother down: "My situation hit me hard. Homeless. Unable to reach my mom. Being stalked by something I couldn't see the breadth of or understand." Reluctantly pairing up with a deep fan classmate named Finch who is obsessed with the theories surrounding Hinterland, Alice begins her long, tortuous journey to the truth about her own past.

Melissa Albert's debut novel is a contemporary fantasy that dwells in an atmospheric, intertwining world of terrifying circumstances; a breathtaking dive into the magic and importance of story in one's identity. "Story is the fabric of the Hinterland," one of the residents tells Alice. Another says, stories "create the energy that makes this world go. They keep our stars in place." If this is so, Albert's exquisite wordsmithing and story weaving have certainly kept the stars aloft for a new generation of readers. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

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