Thursday, January 8, 2015

Review: Wildwood

Over the Break I decided to take a breather with a bestselling kid's novel, and all I could think while I read it was, "Yup. Portland." Here's why... 

Wildwood is the first of a middle-grade fantasy series, written by Colin Meloy.

Following the travels of Prue, a young girl whose brother is mysteriously abducted from a public park by a band of crows, Wildwood journeys through the wilds of the Impassable Wilderness beyond the lines of her native Portland, to find various populations of creatures strange and scary, and some quite surprising! Joined by her school friend Curtis - much against her liking - and then separated from him by a military band of coyotes, Prue must not only save her brother, and her friend, but maybe even the woods themselves.

If the name "Colin Meloy" sounds familiar to you, you must be a fan of the Decemberists. That's because it's the same guy. That's right, the novel was written by a singer/songwriter of a folk rock indie band, while his wife - Carson Ellis - served as its illustrator (in case her work seems familiar as well, it's because she is also responsible for the thoroughly gorgeous covers of the Mysterious Benedict Society series). The combination of the two personalities is more than enough of an indicator of the kind of story you'll be reading.

Wildwood perfectly meshes those indie rock sensibilities and folksy-twee illustrations to create a story, which carries throughout exactly the tone that all the facts of that marriage would lead you to expect. Naturally, this book was a bestseller, and of course I would have seen it in every PNW Lover's guide in the past year or so. 

In terms of content, it's a fairly typical, conventional kind of story for kids, that also reflects other trends from within children's books in recent decades. The length, while longer than usual kids books, kind of reminded me of how the Harry Potter series taught us that kids have more attention than you would think. Additionally, there's quite a bit of the macabre, with frequent threats of violence, but then again, the Percy Jackson series has proven time and again, that kids have a greater understanding of brutality and death than originally found acceptable for middle grade reading material.

It also contained notable aspects, like the importance of communing with nature and keeping the wilds wild, the absolutism of tyranny and necessity of equality, the absurdity of bureaucracy, etc. All of these serve to be pretty interesting lessons for a regular kid's fantasy novel. Still, they all helped bring the boundaries of the Impassable Winderness into believable Portland territory.

(Random Observation Time: this book also reminded me of why I. Hate. Deckled. Pages. Especially unforgivable in paperback.)

Final Verdict: Wildwood is exactly what we've all come to expect from a kid's adventure-fantasy novel, including anthropomorphic animals, ancient magic, and the coming-of-age story (think The Chronicles of Narnia, or Steve Augarde's The Various). An interesting, totally and completely hipster children's adventure and fantasy, that was totally and completely written by Portlanders.

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