The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert had been high up in my to-read stack for a long time, but it was propelled to the top by my colleague Emily’s recent text. “I have a new obsession,” she wrote, and sent the photo shown at right, adding, “Omg. I’m actually scared. It’s scary! And delicious! I feel like a teenager.” (Emily’s in her young 30’s, so she IS practically a teenager, comparatively speaking.) She said she was reading under the covers, she was so scared. Who could resist that level of engagement with a book?!
The premise is creepily appealing: a teenage girl, Alice, has been on the run with her single mom all her life, both of them followed by eerie, sometimes violent runs of bad luck in each new way-station and haunted by fragments of twisted, dark fairy tales written by Alice’s grandmother—a woman Alice doesn’t know—in a book that is impossible to find but has a huge cult following. When Alice’s mother disappears after a particularly disturbing encounter with—but no, that would be telling. Suffice it to say that she disappears, and Alice is frantic to find her. And that fairy tales have a way of coming horribly true.
When I picked up the book, I was immediately hooked, as Emily had been. Melissa Albert is one of those writers who puts me in the mood to write; I love her imagery and her seemingly-loose-but-actually-tight structure, her ability to create fear and dread in the most ordinary settings. While I wasn’t reading it under the covers (I must be more hardened to the spooky than Emily), I read it with relish and devoured it in two sittings. Would have been one but I had to work! I loved the book, and craved more.
The fairy tale / faery aspects of The Hazel Wood and the mood cast by its combination of beauty and eeriness felt like visiting friends I hadn’t seen in a while. It’s not at all that the book isn’t fresh—it is—but there’s something deeply compelling in a particular way about fey tales. It’s like stepping into the world of the Brothers Grimm, a place we’ve known since childhood but that never loses its strangeness. If you’d asked me, I would have told you I hadn’t read that many young adult and middle grade fantasies with a faerie component—maybe three or four—but I started making a list, and it turns out I’m kind of a faery glutton.
In case you, too, are smitten by the creepy fair folk and your pointy teeth are hungry for more, here are some books that do justice to a genre that nobody can spell consistently but that these authors deliver beautifully. Click on the covers to learn more! (Many of these are firsts in series; I just included the kickoff title to each.)
Do you have faerie titles that aren’t part of the series shown here? Emily and I are looking for more scary-delicious reads that make us feel like teenagers again and take us into the dark woods with the fair folk.