A review of Wildwood by Colin Meloy
with illustrations by Carson Ellis
Published 2011, Balzer + Bray
Recently, I tried to think of lead characters in YA adventure stories who had parents–living parents who are able to perform parental functions and are physically with the lead character. I came up only with one: Meg, of A Wrinkle in Time.
It would seem that, generally, the way to move children in a narrative is to take parents out of the picture. Parents have to be dead, estranged, or hyperdysfunctional. Otherwise, it would be one hell of a challenge to come up with a good enough reason for a young person to choose or be allowed to get involved in a situation that entails great personal risk. I would, therefore, consider Colin Meloy brave for choosing to give parents to his two lead characters, Prue and Curtis.
Too bad it didn’t work.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead. Read on only if you trust in my judgment that not reading this book will not be a loss.]
Let’s talk about Curtis first. Here is a normal boy with a normal family. The text gives us no reason to think that he is unhappy with his current life. We know that Prue used to be his friend, but there seems to have been some kind of falling out. Despite these things, he decides to follow Prue into the Impassable Wilderness—a forest no one, as in NO ONE, ventures into with hope of returning—signs up with not less than two armies, risks his life to go into two battles, and decides to stay with his newfound friends because they need him. His family will think that he’s dead, but hey, why would that matter? Wildwood is more important.
On to Prue: she was taking her baby brother, Mac, out for a walk when crows took him away. She saw them take him to the Impassable Wilderness and the two most rational responses she came up with were (1) NOT to tell her parents, because “she couldn’t be the one to break the terrible news to them,” and (2) armed with her great reasoning skills, a flashlight, and an army knife, goes looking for her brother in the woods THE NEXT DAY.
In what world would an American teenager not know that the first 24 hours of an abduction is the most crucial? I have an answer to that, unfortunately: In the same world where parents, after being told that their baby boy is being held by a powerful evil witch to serve as sacrifice, lets their daughter go to rescue their son. But what right do I have to be surprised when, moments before they let Prue leave, they try to convince her to just let her brother die?
With this family raising Mac, I would rather have him sacrificed to the woods.
I had great hopes for this book. Because, what a really great opening line: “How five crows managed to lift a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that was certainly the least of her worries.” And that cover. (The inside illustrations were probably the only thing I ended up liking in this book.)
A novelist friend said that his basic goal when writing fiction remains to be the suspension of disbelief. I agree; suspension of disbelief is the primary thing readers would require in a book. All other ‘literary’ concerns and efforts would be irrelevant if the material fails to hold itself up against simple logic. I began questioning this story right from the beginning, and that just made the whole novel an agonizing read. I’ve already bought the two other books in the series, and Kirkus Reviews gave a star to the third installment, Wildwood Imperium, but at this point, it will take a lot more than that to make me see these books as some things other than really pretty bookends.