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Colin Meloy – Wildwood

October 12, 2011

124. Wildwood by Colin Meloy (2011)

Read By: Amanda Plummer
Length: 546 pages (15h 52m)

Genre: Mid-grade Fantasy

Started: 06 September 2011
Finished: 25 September 2011

Where did it come from? The audiobook came from HarperAudio for review; the paper book came from the library.
Why do I have it? Sent unsolicited by the publishers.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 29 August 2011.

This could all be solved
if someone would make a crow-
proof baby stroller.

Summary: On an otherwise normal day at the park, a murder of crows swoop down and kidnap Prue McKeel’s infant brother, and carry him off into the Impassible Wilderness – an unexplored region of forest on the border of Portland. She’s determined to rescue him, so she heads into the forest, accompanied by Curtis, a kid from school who sees her leaving and decides to tag along. Immediately upon entering the forest, they’re separated and Curtis is captured by a group of coyote soldiers. Now Prue has two people to rescue, and to do so, she’s going to have to find allies amongst the various people and animals that live in the forest… but they’re up against a madwoman with a plan that has the potential to destroy Wildwood forever.

Review: I wanted to like this book more than I did; I should have liked it more than I did. I should have found the fantasy elements fun and the adventure exciting and the quirky sense of humor charming… and I did, it was all of those things, but in the final analysis I just didn’t find it fun or exciting or charming enough. It does have a similar vibe to The Phantom Tollbooth, which was one of my favorite books when I was growing up, but while they’re similar, I feel like Wildwood takes twice the space to accomplish not quite as much.

Part of it was that there was just so much – it’s a fat book, with lots of story elements, and a penchant for wordy description that I don’t normally associate with mid-grade books. It’s not that I think kids can’t handle long books, or big words, and goodness knows I’m a fan of vocabulary. But in any writing, regardless of age level, I like the language to be precise. Long words are great for conveying specific meanings when simpler words can’t convey the same nuance. Long words for the sake of long words, however, just clutter things up, especially when the shades of meaning they convey are actually not at all what the sentence calls for. I often felt like I had to fight through all the words to get at the interesting and engaging part of the story.

And as for the story… I appreciate that the main plot was an original twist on the standard fantasy tropes. There were a lot of story elements that I liked, and would have been interested to hear more about. But again, there was just so much going on that it seemed like the pieces I found most interesting weren’t developed as well as I wanted them to be. There’s a lot on the surface, but I didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of depth.

(Also, this book had the most egregious examples of one of my YA-lit pet peeves – the absentee parents – that I’ve ever seen. I get that to have an adventure story with a kid protagonist, the parents can’t be hovering around, but if any parents in real life behaved like Prue’s parents, they’d be arrested for criminal negligence before they could say “Sure, we trust our eleven-year-old so much as a caretaker that we’re not even going to bother looking at our infant child in person today.” And that’s just at the beginning; it gets worse from there, and it bugged.)

I started out listening to the audiobook of Wildwood, but that lasted less than a disc’s worth. It’s narrated by Amanda Plummer – i.e. Honey Bunny from the beginning of Pulp Fiction – and while I have no problem with her as an actress, I just couldn’t deal with her voice for another 15 hours of story. Plus, switching to paper meant that I got the benefit of Carson Ellis’s charming illustrations and maps. I only wish that my problems with getting into the story itself had been solved by the switch as well. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you like mid-grade fantasy adventure stories, it’s worth giving Wildwood a shot; the fact that I couldn’t get into it may be entirely idiosyncratic. (Or worth putting it into the hands of your favorite eleven-year-old that likes fantasy adventures; I can easily see kids of both sexes eating this up.)

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Bibliomantics, Good Books and Good Wine, Misfit Salon
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: How five crows managed to life a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that was certainly the least of her worries.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 420: “Standing atop a high hill, it was a rickety wooden affair: a small, domed hovel built at the top of a haphazard maze of cross-bracing beams, circumvallated by a narrow walkway.” – surrounded by or as if by a rampart.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2011 10:33 am

    Okay, the parental negligence would drive me crazy, but your haiku description was highly entertaining.

    • October 14, 2011 10:09 am

      Alyce – The bit at the beginning was bad enough, but there’s a part in the middle that I didn’t address specifically (for fear of spoilers), but was just HORRIBLE on the “believable parents” front, and really turned me off.

  2. October 12, 2011 12:28 pm

    I have this book, so I will probably read it, but that’s too bad you didn’t like it a bit more.

    • October 14, 2011 10:10 am

      Kailana – It’s entirely possible I’m just cranky. I hope you have a better time with it!

  3. October 12, 2011 8:05 pm

    I’m not a fan of wordy descriptions so this probably isn’t for me.

    • October 14, 2011 10:10 am

      Kathy – Also, I think it’s too far down the fantasy-road to really appeal to you.

  4. October 13, 2011 8:34 pm

    *giggles* When I heard that Colin Meloy had written a book (and I say this with all the love in the world for Colin Meloy), I immediately thought he should give up writing books for children and go back to writing awesome songs for me to listen to and learn to play on my guitar. His use of attractive but not-quite-apt words is delightful in his songs but (this is what I said in my text to my sister, but I said it more concisely then) I suspected it wouldn’t work in book form.

    • October 14, 2011 10:12 am

      Jenny – I know who the Decemberists are, but have never really listened to their music… but when Colin Meloy was on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me a few weeks ago, they were ribbing him for the verbosity of his lyrics, and I was like “oh, yes, that totally makes sense with the style of the book.”

      • October 15, 2011 8:44 am

        Oh you should listen to them. I adore them although I know they’re not for everybody. “Calamity Song” is my present favorite AND I can play it (badly) on my guitar. :p

  5. October 14, 2011 9:38 am

    I somehow ended up with a copy of this one, and your review is the first I’ve seen. I doubt I’ll get to it any time soon, but I am curious to give it a try. And if I wasn’t before, I would be after your haiku and the first line!

    • October 14, 2011 10:14 am

      Erin – It is a great hook for a story, isn’t it? (Especially to those of us with younger brothers. :) I hope you enjoy it!

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