I had been anxiously awaiting Wildwood for months. If you recall from a few months ago, I’m a huge Decemberists fan (largely in part to the literary nature of their lyrics). So when I heard Colin Meloy was writing a Narnia-esque trilogy to be illustrated by his wife, award-winning artist Carson Ellis, I could not wait to get my hands on it.
Wildwood revolves around Prue McKeel, a spunky tween who likes to go on adventures around Portland with her one-year-old baby brother, Mac, in tow. On one such afternoon, a murder of crows swoops in and carries Mac off to the Impassable Wilderness, a dense and uncharted forest outside Portland that everyone steers clear of. A stunned Prue makes a decision: determined to get Mac back, Prue and her classmate, Curtis, set off for the Impassable Wilderness without telling their parents.
In order to find Mac, Prue and Curtis must navigate the enchanting–and sometimes dark–world of Wildwood (as its residents refer to the Impassable Wilderness), where humans and anthropomorphic animals live in an uneasy coexistence that’s filled with bureaucratic strife. As Outsiders, the two are constantly met with equal parts awe and suspicion. They must rely on their wits and instincts in order to figure out who to trust.
There is a lot going on in Wildwood. In addition to the coming-of-age/self-discovery aspect, larger themes of family, friendship, and loyalty are interwoven throughout the eventful narrative. Although he wrote a middle grade book (ages 9-ish and up), Meloy doesn’t talk down to his young audience; the vocabulary is challenging and sophisticated, but there’s always just enough context to figure stuff out. With its intelligent prose and entertainingly epic narrative, the book has the potential to appeal to adults as well as its younger intended audience.
Adding to the book’s appeal are the exquisite, whimsical illustrations by the talented Carson Ellis (I love her work). It’s a shame so many of the illustrations were printed in black and white (I imagine a full-color book would have been extremely cost-prohibitive), but the black and white drawings are gorgeous nonetheless. Luckily, the publisher included five color plates–full-page, full-color illustrations printed on glossy paper–throughout the book for readers to savor.
There was only one thing about the book that grated on my nerves: parts of the first chapter started to annoy me with their Rich White Portland affectations. It started out innocently enough, with Prue taking Mac along on errands I envied:
The morning flew by, giving way to a warm afternoon. After several random errands (a pair of Levis, not quite the right color, needed returning; the recent arrivals bin at Vinyl Resting Place required perusing; a plate of veggie tostadas was messily shared at the taqueria), she found herself whiling time outside the coffee shop on the main street while Mac quietly napped in the red wagon.
Charming enough (not to mention the fact that the kid has a way cooler childhood than I ever did). But after a while, it was like, “Okay, I get it. Portland Prue is hip. Next?” Mind you, this is a minuscule, almost negligible aspect of the first chapter of a long, fun, delightful book. If that’s my only quibble, y’all probably have nothing to worry about.
I loved this book and can’t wait to see what adventures await Prue and Curtis in final two books of the trilogy! In fact, I loved Wildwood so much that I plan on making the 11-hour round trip drive up to Austin in a few weeks to see Meloy and Ellis at Book People. But most importantly, I look forward to the day my little nephew is old enough to read this with me. It will be a fun book to share with him.
I don’t usually include book trailers in my reviews because it makes me feel like an infomercial, but for this I make an exception; the trailer gives viewers a glimpse at some of Ellis’s gorgeous artwork:
Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book 1 was released on August 30, 2011 by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Publisher/Year: Balzer + Bray, 2011
Source: Online purchase