Wildwood, by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis (2011)

Genre: Fantasy
Interest Level: 10-14
WildwoodI loved this book! It’s an old-fashioned fantasy adventure story, complete with an evil queen (sort of) and talking animals. It should be noted – I normally despise fantasy and talking animals. But this one appeals to childhood memories of grand adventures, good versus evil, and a lovely map on the end papers. Written by the lead singer of The Decemberists, the novel is set in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. (You know how much I love local settings.) Our heroine is 12-year-old Prue, who is looking after her baby brother Mac one Saturday in the park. A murder of crows swoops down and snatches Mac, taking him across the Willamette River and into the Impassable Wilderness. Meloy does a fine job of describing what is the Pacific Northwest rainforest as the Impassable Wilderness: a gloomy forest, a canopy of firs, an impenetrable undergrowth of blackberries and ferns. Prue’s character is sassy and smart; she’s resourceful, loyal and determined to get her brother back. Off she goes into the Wildwood, improbably joined by her classmate Curtis. Almost immediately the two are separated. Prue is whisked deep into the magical world by a postal carrier, and Curtis is kidnapped by coyotes and made into a soldier. They are on opposites of a war that has no clear “good side.” The illustrations are delightful – Ellis (who happens to be Meloy’s life partner) illustrated The Mysterious Benedict Society, and brings the same flat, whimsical and detailed style to this project. Generally black and white, with occasional colour plates, the illustrations caused me to stop reading and linger, looking for clues that might reveal a little bit of the mystery. I found Meloy’s dialogue clever and natural, without talking down to kids. I liked the not too heavy-handed comment on war, sustainability and environmentalism, and a focused heroine who knows what to do when faced with a wrong. On the other hand, it dragged a wee bit – perhaps one subplot too many? But it’s a minor quibble. It’s the first in a trilogy, apparently, but stands very well on its own. A winner.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10431447-wildwood

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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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