Hazel Wood (Albert)

The Hazel Wood 
Melissa Albert, 2018
Flatiron Books
368 pp.

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Melissa Albert is the founding editor of the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog and the managing editor of BN.com. She has written for McSweeney’s, Time Out Chicago, MTV, and more. Melissa is from Illinois and lives in Brooklyn. The Hazel Wood (2018) is her first novel. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
(Starred review.) [A] tantalizing tale of secret histories and magic that carries costs and consequences. There is no happily-ever-after resolution except this: Alice’s hard-won right to be in charge of her own story (Ages 12–up).
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) The lilting structure and deliberate tone bring to mind fairy tales…while also hinting at the teeth this story will bear in the form of murder, mayhem, and violence both in the Hinterland tales and in Alice's reality.… [E]mpowering. (Gr. 9-up) —Emma Carbone, Brooklyn Public Library
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Highly literary, occasionally surreal, and grounded by Alice’s clipped, matter-of-fact voice, The Hazel Wood is a dark story that readers will have trouble leaving behind. The buzz for this debut is deafening, and the fact that the film adaption is already in the works doesn’t hurt.

(Starred review.) Simultaneously wondrous and horrific, dreamlike and bloody, lyrical and creepy, exquisitely haunting and casually, brutally cruel. Not everybody lives, and certainly not "happily ever after"—but within all the grisly darkness, Alice's fierce integrity and hard-won self-knowledge shine unquenched.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for The Hazel Wood … then take off on your own:

1. What do you think of Alice—her explosive anger, rudeness, even cruelty? Does she grow on you? Do you perhaps come to care what happens to her? Does what we finally learn of Alice's past adequately explain—maybe even excuse—her offensive behavior?

2. How would you describe the mother-daughter relationship between Ella and Alice. Alice herself calls it a "symbiotic relationship that looks cute on TV but felt fucking exhausting when you're moving for the third time in a year…." What are they running from, precisely?

3. Why has Ella kept Alice apart from Althea, never permitting Alice to read Tales from the Hinterland nor visit her grandmother? Ella's note orders Alice to "stay away from Hazel Wood." Why?

4. How does Melissa Albert's The Hazel Wood compare with standard fairy tales … even some of the more recent re-tellings?

5. Ellery Finch says of Tales from the Hinterland, the fairy tales within the fairy tale:

There are no lessons … just this harsh, horrible world … where shitty things happen. And they don't happen for a reason, or in threes, or in a way that looks like justice. They're set it a place that has no rules and doesn't want any.

What does it say about Ellery that he has such affection for these stories—stories in which random cruelty takes place and where there is no rhyme or reason for any of it?

6. How do you respond to Alice's disregard for Ellery's concerns about race and racial profiling? Does the fact that he grew up in a wealthy family make the color of his skin unimportant? Is Ellery more "privileged" than Alice, who grew up without money?

7. What do you think of Althea's Tales from the Hinterland—especially the two stories Ellery recounts? What light do they shed on the events within The Hazel Wood? Are you hoping Melissa Albert will publish a complete volume of Tales on its own?

8. The Hazel Wood is peppered with allusions to other famous fairy tales. How do they inform the action/plot line within Albert's novel?

9. What does Melissa Albert's novel suggest about the power of words? Consider this passage:

Once upon a time there was a beautiful queen who thought words were stronger than anything. She used them to win love and money and gifts. She used them to carry her across the world.

10. Were you as confused as Alice seems to be on the journey she undertakes with Ellery? In fact, were you confused generally throughout the novel, as some readers say they were? Overall, how did you experience The Hazel Wood? Was it what you expected … or something different?

11. And the novel's ending—what do you think?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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