Wildwood by Colin Meloy is a thick middle grades fantasy with an imaginative premise. Outside Portland, there’s a vast wilderness that no one is allowed to visit. Prue McKeel’s baby brother is carried away by crows into the wilderness while she’s watching, so, joined unexpectedly by her classmate, Curtis, she travels into the forest to rescue him. Once they get there, Prue and Curtis become separated and encounter a complex world of talking animals, political intrigue and warring factions.
I wanted to like this book so very much. I was prepared to love it, I tell you. Colin Meloy is the lead singer for the Decemberists and I love the Decemberists. The illustrator, Carson Ellis, whose work you may know from The Mysterious Benedict Society, created amazing artwork for the book. The concept is right up my alley and I could feel all the wild and weirdness of some Decemberists lyrics as I started reading. Heck, Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis even have a cool music playlist to go with the book. Some of the language and the descriptions are lovely and really set the mood of the story well. You feel Portland in the opening and then you feel the strangeness of Wildwood.
But I’ll admit it. It lost me somewhere. The dual perspectives of Prue and Curtis shifted far too quickly for me, as if every scene was fast cut like two sides of the battle in a film. Mostly though, the length just became a slog. Somewhere in the middle, I began to feel like not that much had happened since Prue and Curtis’s initial separation, or, at least, not enough to justify two hundred pages. That marked the end for me; I’m afraid to admit it, but I was just skimming from there on out, curious how the story came out and whether it would grip me again. There was some good stuff in there as characters learned lessons, changed sides, and purposes were revealed, but it never quite did recapture me.
Still, I think I may have to chock this one into a pile of good children’s books that just didn’t do it for me personally. Maybe it can share a shelf with Summerland somewhere.