Friday, October 14, 2011

Chapter Book Review - Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis

Right over our back fence is a patch of land that the owners have pretty much left alone. There's a  plum tree, some grapevines, and blackberries galore. This jumble of wildness presses itself into our fence, bursting over the top and shoving aside random boards in its untameable chaos.

We love it.

And it was this very wildness that I thought of from the first pages of Wildwood, the richly imaginative new novel by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis. The book is set in Portland, OR, but a Portland unlike that most people know, one bordered by the fierce forest known as the Impassable Wilderness. Residents know to avoid these woods entirely. Prue McKeel and Curtis Mehlberg aren't sure just why, as their parents never really talk about it -- but when Prue's baby brother Mac is snatched by a murder of crows who fly into the Impassable Wildness, suddenly everything changes. Prue is determined to get her brother back, and Curtis is equally set on helping her, so, somewhat trepidatiously, into the Wilderness they go.

What they find is something they are completely unprepared for. Armies of talking coyotes, regiments of birds, deposed rulers trying to regain power, and always, everywhere, wildness and magic. Prue and Curtis soon are in the thick of it, trying to piece together which side they should be fighting for and just how Mac could disappear like he did. And the deeper Prue and Curtis get into the woods, the more they discover about themselves, their families, and how dense the wildness really is.

Wildwood is the kind of book that fantasy lovers long for, vividly detailed and fantastically suspenseful. Meloy's writing is offset perfectly by Ellis's illustrations, whimsical and just a bit dangerous. I love the use of color plates inset at points throughout the story -- it reminds me of old editions of the Oz books that I used to pore over. And, in fact, Wildwood owes a lot to L. Frank Baum, C.S. Lewis and even Lewis Carroll, as readers of these authors will find much that's familiar but also a completely new departure in this novel. Curtis in particular was quite reminiscent of Edmund from Narnia, at least at first, but then Curtis's own character emerges and we can see that he's definitely a personality all his own. My favorite bit was the bandits, especially the Bandit King Brendan, that rakish devil.

I can't wait for the next entry in this series, to catch up with Prue and Curtis and visit Wildwood once more. Share this with anyone who loves magic, mystery and epic adventure -- whether you read it aloud or they jump in all your own, Wildwood is one to curl up with on a stormy winter night (and keep reading long past your bedtime!).

Wildwood by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis; published by Balzer + Bray
Ages 9 up
Source: Library
Sample quote: "'Impassable Wilderness? Oh boy, would that it were. I might have a little more time at home. Nah, I don't know who told you that, but you Outside folk have got it all wrong. 'Course, you're the first of your kind I've ever seen here, so it stands to reason that no one ever made an effort to find out about the Wood -- Wild, North, or South.' He looked at Prue and smiled. 'Seems like you just might be our first pioneer, Port-Land Prue.'"
Highly recommended

For more about Wildwood, check out this interview with Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis!

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