“I did it because a girl doing nothing in a fairy tale ends up dead or worse, but a girl who makes a decision usually gets rewarded.”

I had a bit of a meaningful synchronicity happen around reading The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. I had found it during one of my regular searches for GU books online, and reserved a copy at the library. The very day my hold came in, a close friend told me about a book she had found quite randomly which she thought I’d really resonate with – The Hazel Wood! I knew right then this was likely to be something special, and it was. I read a lot of GU books of course, and most of them are enjoyable enough, but only a few stand out enough to earn a permanent place on my bookshelf, and this is one of them. Not only does it follow the archetype beautifully, it delves into the Power of Story in a world where the stories are mostly dark and cruel and perilous – something I noticed a few other reviewers balking at, but which suits me very well.

Alice Proserpine, 16 (and what a nod to the GU archetype right there in her name, with references to both Alice in Wonderland and the myth of Persephone – called Proserpine by the Romans) has lived an unstable life, being dragged from one town to another by her mother, constantly seeming to be on the run from who-knows-what. Her grandmother Althea was the infamous author of a rare book of fairy tales, but Alice has never met her, although she has tried to connect with her by reading every fairy tale she could find. Shortly after Althea dies, their normally unlucky, difficult life gets even stranger, and Alice’s mother is stolen. Alice must team up with a boy from school who’s obsessed with Althea’s book, to uncover the secrets her mother had hidden – secrets about the fairy tale world called Hinterland which is more real than she could have imagined.

They receive cryptic warnings and directions along the way, there is strange magic afoot, and Alice suffers a devastating betrayal. She discovers that she is deeply connected to the Hinterland, and is able to find it where others failed. She meets the Adversary, who causes her to forget herself for so long it seems there is no hope. But with some help from her companions, she wakes up and manages to tell a new story that not only liberates her, but everyone else in that world. Because ultimately, it’s a world built on Story, and once she understands that, she truly knows herself and gains volition. These are some of the most important themes of the Girls Underground trope, which is part of what makes this book so special to me.

I’ve tried to keep this vague because I don’t want to spoil anything, and this book is really worth discovering for yourself, so I highly suggest you do that!