Wildwood by Colin Meloy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“So what do I do now?” asked Prue. “My brother was kidnapped by birds. My friend was captured by coyotes… And I nearly forgot: My bike is broken. Sounds like a country song. If country songs were really, really weird.”
After Prue’s baby brother is kidnapped by a murder of crows, she and her friend Curtis brave the Impassible Wilderness to rescue him, and end up entangled in the strange inhabitants’ civil war. The other day I was browsing reviews and happened to see a blurb on this one. What caught my eye wasn’t the beautiful, intricate illustration on the cover or the Narnia-esque plot synopsis, but the author’s bio. It’s been awhile since I’ve kept up on music news, so I had no idea that the lead singer/songwriter of The Decemberists had written a book, but since I love the Decemberists, I figured there was a good chance I’d love this book, too (although I’ll admit, that’s the kind of logic that failed me terribly with The Casual Vacancy). The first pages drew me in immediately. A baby being kidnapped and whisked away by crows to a mysterious and impassible wilderness? Just the sort of whimsical surprises I’d expect from a Decemberists’ song. Score! Throughout the book, there were these sparkling rays of creativity and brilliance that kept me wondering, “Wow, what next?” The gorgeous illustrations were also one of the highlights of this book, wonderful companions to the story that might have at times (for instance, in describing the cities of the South Woods) actually outshone the written word.
Unfortunately, it took some resilience to keep with it in between these bits of awesomeness. Twice I put down this book to finish other ones first, generally not a good sign. There are a hodgepodge of myths, fairy tales, and other stories that share similar aspects to this one — The Chronicles of Narnia, most obviously, but also Rumplestiltskin, Labyrinth, The Tale of Despereaux, and others. And despite the fact that this is supposed to be a middle-grade novel, it’s lengthy, violent, and contains arcane vocabulary that could definitely overwhelm middle-grade readers. I prefer to think of this book, therefore, as a YA novel or perhaps even an adult novel for grown-ups that like fairy tales — although admittedly, adults may not appreciate the portrayal of the adults in this particular story: an evil Dowager Governess, a Bandit King, and a couple of truly incompetent parents are pretty much the only grown-ups.
Overall: Adult fans of the Decemberists won’t likely be disappointed, but the writing style and length may be a frustration for the middle-grade readers this is marketed towards.