The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert – An Excerpt

The Hazel Wood, is about seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother who have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD.

Let’s read an excerpt from this absolutely unputdownable book.

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Althea Proserpine is raising her daughter on fairy tales. Once upon a time she was a girl named Anna Parks, one of the legion of midcentury dreamers who came to Manhattan with their hopes tucked into a suitcase. Then she went missing. Then she came back, and achieved an odd kind of fame, glittering from some angles but dark from others. Now she’s gone again,  ed to a turreted house in the deep dark woods, where she lives with her ve- year- old daughter and her husband, an actual royal— she just can’t quit fairy tales. When I get her on the phone, her voice is as alluring as her most famous photo, the one with the ring and the cigarette. I ask if I can come talk to her in person, and her laugh is hot whiskey on ice. “You’d get lost on the way to  nding me,” she says. “You’d need breadcrumbs, or a spool of thread.” — “The Queen of the Hinterland,” Vanity Fair, 1987

My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways. My first memory is the smell of hot pavement and the sky through the sunroof, whipping by in a river of blue. My mom tells me that’s impossible— our car doesn’t have a sunroof. But I can still close my eyes and see it, so I’m holding on to it.

We’ve crossed the country a hundred times, in our beater car that smells like French fries and stale coffee and plasticky strawberries, from the day I fed my Tinkerbell lipstick into the slats of the heater vent. We stayed in so many places, with so many people, that I never really learned the concept of stranger danger.

Which is why, when I was six years old, I got into an old blue Buick with a redheaded man I’d never met and drove with him for fourteen hours straight— plus two stops for bathroom breaks and one for pancakes— before the cops pulled us over, tipped off by a waitress who recognized my description from the radio.

By then I’d  figured out the man wasn’t who he said he was: a friend of my grandmother, Althea, taking me to see her. Althea was already secluded in her big house then, and I’d never met her. She had no friends, just fans, and my mother told me that’s what the man was. A fan who wanted to use me to get to my grandma.

After they’d determined I hadn’t been assaulted, after the redheaded man was identified as a drifter who’d stolen a car a few miles from the place we were staying in Utah, my mother decided we’d never talk about it again. She didn’t want to hear it when I told her the man was kind, that he’d told me stories and had a warm laugh that made me believe, deep in my six- year- old’s heart, he was actually my father come to claim me. She’d been shown the redheaded man in custody through a one- way mirror, and swore she’d never seen him before.

For a few years I’d persisted in believing he was my dad. When we left Utah after his arrest, to live for a few months in an artists’ retreat outside of Tempe, I worried he wouldn’t be able to find me again.

He never did. By the time I turned nine, I’d recognized my secret belief for what it was: a child’s fantasy. I folded it away like I did all the things I didn’t need— old toys, bedtime superstitions, clothes that didn’t fit. My mom and I lived like vagrants, staying with friends till our welcome wore through at the elbows, perching in precarious places, then moving on. We didn’t have the luxury of being nostalgic. We didn’t have a chance to stand still. Until the year I turned seventeen, and Althea died in the Hazel Wood.

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