Friday, February 22, 2013

Fiction Friday: Wildwood Edition

After a slow few months of reading books that failed to truly inspire me, I've now read two in a row that kicked my imagination into overdrive. Last week I discussed the first of those novels, and now I'd like to present you with the next. Written by one of my favorite singer-songwriters, this is a book I'd been dying to read for over a year. I just finished it last night, and I have to say it's one of the best Middle Grade fantasies I've ever read. The term modern classic is used a lot...too much...but in this case, I think it may actually apply.

Wildwood by Colin Meloy
(Harper, 2011)

As a long time fan of The Decemberists, and Middle Grade fantasy, I was thrilled to hear about this book when it was published. This goes against my typical reaction when I hear an artist from another field is writing a children's book. Usually, I'm skeptical. This time, I was ecstatic. The reason for that is quite simple, even in his songs, Colin Meloy is a natural storyteller. He can tell a richly imagined story in just a few minutes, so naturally I couldn't wait to see what he'd do with 500 pages. As it turns out, the result is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Wildwood is an ambitious novel, setting out to create an imagined realm much like Oz, or Wonderland, but with a small twist; this world exists in the middle of Portland, OR. Anyone who has ever tried to create such a place knows how impossibly difficult the task can be. It's hard enough creating a believable place which the character must to travel to through a rabbit hole or a tornado, let alone establishing it within plain sight. Pulling that off is the novel's first of many achievements.

At its core, Wildwood is a quest novel, following a young girl on a mission to save her baby brother after he is abducted by a murder of crows. On her journey, she encounters many wondrous things: an army of coyotes, an evil witch, a troop of bandits, a nation of birds, and much more. But as with any quest, the main character also discovers much about herself in the process. It's an epic story with political intrigue, fierce battles, and always a hint of danger. But all of that is just decoration for the book's important themes of family and friendship.

Both main characters, Prue and Curtis, are fully realized, facing each challenge with determined bravery. They both make mistakes, but as with any well thought-out Middle Grade story, they learn from these mistakes and grow because of them. If you ever feel like getting lost in another world, I highly recommend accompanying them on their journey.

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