Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wildwood by Colin Meloy

First published in 2011 by Viking

I kind of missed the whole ‘Colin Meloy of the Decemberists has written a kid’s book’ hype – I was excited about Wildwood because it was in all our indie book catalogues, had some great feedback in store, and looked gorgeous. It wasn’t until I picked up the book and actually read about the author that I realised who he was. So in no way does that have any influence on my reading of the book. In fact, I think it could stand alone on its own strengths.

Wildwood kind of has all the elements I think this type of middle-grade book should have. The writing is not dumbed down – there were a few sentences and word usages where I was a bit ‘really? You had to use that word?’; but it is straightforward and accessible to kids while still having that appeal that hooks in older readers. There is lots of adventure and an imaginative world that is fully immersive. There is that fantastic concept of kids being swept into the kind of world they’ve only ever dreamed about – populated by derring-do and talking animals and heroes and villains and all the weird and wacky stuff that lives in our heads. It is, really, a classic adventure story, well done and engaging. Where it didn’t quite get me was with the emotional resonance. I didn’t care so much for Prue as everything that was happening around her, and my emotions weren’t pulled into the story the way I wanted them to be. But I liked Wildwood. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

Of course, the book looks gorgeous and its design and illustrations are perfectly suited to the text. Design actually plays a big part in the way I read and enjoy books, and Wildwood is one of the best. And yes, it’s long, but I really don’t think that should deter anyone. My experience is that kids don’t mind reading long books – in fact I think they rather like having a world that they can keep coming back to.

I loved the world of Wildwood, or ‘The Impassable Wilderness’; it was a joy to travel through it with Prue and Curtis and see what would be discovered next. The maps that were included were also great. The actual forest has a lot of atmosphere but both the ‘city’ feel of Southwood and the quaint rustic feel of Northwood were written with a lot of charm.

Prue and Curtis were okay as characters, but as I said, I really wasn’t so much interested in them as in the strange world they entered into. This really is a case of secondary characters stealing the book away from the mains. And the main villains and heroes are really nothing we haven’t seen before, but Meloy does enough with them that I still found them interesting. It was the animals where characterisation really stood out.

The bulk of the story is set in the actual Wildwood, and so I didn’t care much for the ‘normal’ scenes back in Portland, especially the last six or so pages. The Wildwood scenes actually feel more ‘real’ than Prue’s normal reality, and so I don’t want to be pulled back into the mundane.

I liked it. There is a great sense of wild childhood adventure. My pick for a good Summer read.

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