“Wildwood” by Colin Meloy

Since I was drinking mixed drinks and Red Stripe all last week, I really don’t have a beer to talk about just yet.  That, however, doesn’t mean I can’t still do a review of something.  If you know the name Colin Meloy, you may be thinking this has to be some kind of solo album he put out that you didn’t notice.  You my friend would be wrong.  Colin Meloy tested some of that writing ability that we have only seen in Decemberists’ songs by putting out a novel.  I saw something about this book shortly before Christmas this year, and it managed to make it on to my list of desirable gifts.  Thankfully my parents got it for me, and I managed to finally get around to reading it on this vacation.  I’m a reading teacher, but I rarely get to read things I want to read.  I am rereading material I give the kids, grading papers, and getting my posts up here.  So, I was really happy to finally find the time to get around to doing a little reading of my own.

There were a few things that led me to wanting to read this book.  First of all, I love the Decemberists, which means I have a hard time passing up anything they put out.  Secondly, I thought the story actually sounded interesting.  The synopsis on the back of the book told me that this is a story about a girl, Prue, who heads into the Impassable Forest outside of Portland, Oregon to rescue her brother who has been kidnapped by a murder of crows.  How does that story not sound interesting to someone.  That has hipster written all over it.  Finally I was interested in reading it because it’s written by Meloy and illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis.  So the book is a family affair too.

The plot overall is an interesting one; although, I think it is somewhat formulaic.  Meloy has decided to employ the use of fantasy throughout his story.  “Wildwood” doesn’t start outright like a fantasy story; instead, we follow Prue around her Portland neighborhood.  A hipster child, she rides to the library on her bike which tows a wagon containing her little brother.  Later she rides to the park where she allows her brother to play while she draws wildlife.  While distracted, she doesn’t notice the murder of crows that comes in until it’s too late.  There is a bike chase scene all over Portland, but the crows eventually fly over this mysterious Impassable Forest.  The forest is an interesting component of the story.  It resides on the side of the little town, but no one goes there or even talks about it.  Prue has been very interested in it for years; however, she now has to go in after her brother.

The parents are one of the parts of the story that kind of annoy me.  They just seem a little too dumb to be realistic characters.  Prue goes home and is able to make it through a whole night without her parents realizing that the little brother is gone.  The next day she heads into the forest on her adventure.  While going that way, she is followed by her schoolmate Curtis.  Curtis isn’t exactly the popular kid in school because he continues to draw superheroes when everyone else gave that up ages ago.  None-the-less they head into the forest together to find Prue’s lost sibling.

I, of course, don’t want to give away too much of the rest of the plot.  I would hate to ruin the rest of the story for anyone who is interested in reading it; however, once inside the forest the story begins to take the real fantasy twist.  The Impassable Forrest is divided into 3 areas.  There is Southwood where all of the government and intellectuals live.  There is Northwood where all of the farmers and free thinkers live, and then there is Wildwood in-between the two civilized areas.  Wildwood has coyotes, bandits, crows, and all other sorts of feared wildlife that makes Wildwood the scary part of their community.  Curtis and Prue manage to get separated once inside the forest.  They encounter talking animals, birds, and an evil Governess as well.  A long and crazy journey occurs where Curtis and Prue must find each other, find Prue’s lost little brother, and defeat the evil Governess that is looking to take over the forest.

I really did like this book, but I can’t help but feel like it follows a little too closely to the formula of popular stories like “The Chronicles of Narnia” and even Star Wars.  The talking animals of course is one thing; however, you also have the character who is barely seen that is the symbol for all that is good.  The Governess of course can be compared to the evil queen found in “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”. I’m not saying it’s bad that he followed a similar formula, but it felt like I could predict what would occur in certain parts of the story.

Regardless of its similarities to other stories, I do think it’s a really good story that has some surprises to it as well.  This was a really easy beach read for sure.  Even though it is over 500 pages, I still managed to get it done and start a new story before leaving Jamaica.  The full title of this book states that is The Wildwood Chronicles: Book 1, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to read book two at some point.  If you’re looking for an easy and entertaining read, then you definitely need to pick this one up.

Teacher Grade: B+

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