Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review: Wildwood

By Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis
Expected publication August 30, 2011 by Balzer & Bray

I love the Decemberists. Their songs are evocative, melodic, and wonderful stories. When I found out that their lead singer would be writing a children's book, and that it was getting fabulous praise, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. So I was incredibly excited to snag an ARC at ALA's annual conference.

Prue McKeel is enjoying a typical Oregon afternoon with her baby brother when he is suddenly abducted by a murder of crows. Determined to rescue him, Prue tracks the crows and watches in horror as they fly into the Impassable Wilderness, a dense forest that no one is ever expected to return from. But, with the help of her friend Curtis and sheer determination, Prue embarks on a quest to rescue her brother and be the first to come out of the Wilderness alive. Little does she know how complicated her journey is going to be.

My first thoughts about this book is that it will be a hell of a vocabulary lesson for any child trying to read it, especially its target audience. This is high-brow prose, with lots of fancy words, which could be great for building vocab with kids. But it could also be frustrating for children who just want to read the story and instead get tripped up by the words they don't understand. The more I read, the more this felt like a book that couldn't decide what it wanted to be. Is this really a children's book? Or is it a book about children for adults? I know they are going to be doing cross-promotion and I think it's very smart; I can definitely see this as a book enjoyed by adults. This book evokes classic fantasy - sharp heroine, extensive quest, talking animals, extremely nasty villain. It's a hefty book - over 500 pages - and I was intimidated by it initially. I didn't expect it to hold my interest the entire time, but it managed to. Prue is a wonderfully spunky heroine and it's fun to see Curtis develop. I think my favorite thing about this book is the extraordinary cast of secondary characters - the villain, the coyote soldiers, the Bandits, the Mystics, Owl Rex, the rest of the Avians - this book is alive and vibrant with wonderfully evocative characters, both human and animal alike.

This book is a very strong debut, made richer with the illustrations by Ellis. I only wish I had seen them all (the ARC had a number of places indicating "artwork to come" and no full-color illustrations). This is the first book in a projected trilogy, though the story feels complete by the end of this novel. I think this will be a big hit for young fantasy fans.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

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