My first read of 2012 is Wildwood by Colin Meloy, lead singer and songwriter of quirky band, The Decemeberists. Anyone who has listened to the Decemberists knows their penchant for storytelling. Their albums do not cover the typical contemporary topics of getting drunk, getting laid and breaking up. Instead they draw their inspiration from fables, such as The Crane Wife. If ever a was a singer born to write YA novels, it is Colin Meloy. Thankfully, he doesn't disappoint.
Wildwood begins with 13-year-old Prue taking her infant brother, Mac, to the park in their quiet suburb of Portland, Oregon. All seems normal, until Prue notices a murder of crows gathered in the surrounding trees. Suddenly, the crows swoop down and abduct Mac. Prue jumps on her bike, following them as fast as she can peddle, but she is no match for their speed. As she watches, the crows, with Mac in tow, disappear into what is commonly referred to as "The Impassable Wilderness", a wooded area that all Portland residents know to avoid at all costs. Though she has been taught from birth to keep away, she knows she must enter the Impassable Wilderness if she ever hopes to find her brother.
On her way into the wood, Prue is waylaid by a classmate, a social outcast called Curtis. He insists on accompanying her into the wood. What follows is an adventurous fairytale in the vein of Narnia and Peter Pan. During their search for Mac, the pair of so-called "Outsiders" discover that an entire world beyond anything they could have imagined exists within the wood. It is complete with an evil queen, rowdy bandits, coyote soldiers, wise mystics, a luxurious city, an owl regent, and many more fantastical creatures and settings.
As a fan of YA lit and the Decemberists, I have had my eye on Wildwood for awhile. Overall, I enjoyed the book. Though I will admit it did drag a bit through the middle, I found the characters and situations interesting and the story enchanting. There were two things in particular I loved about the book: the illustrations and the ending.
The illustrations, by Meloy's wife and renowned children's book illustrator, Carson Ellis, are charming. The cartoon-ish, yet simple drawings are very well-suited to a modern day fairy tale set in a magical land on the periphery of Portland.
I enjoyed the end for a couple of reasons. It was well-developed and generally happy, but not perfect. And more importantly (for me anyway) it was not a cliffhanger. As a young adult librarian, it is damn near impossible for me to keep up with every single book in every single YA and children's series out there. It sometimes seems like all books written for the age group are part of a series. I am sick of it. Wildwood, according to the title page, is the first book in The Wildwood Chronicles. Blargh. But, the book ends well enough that I don't feel like I have to continue on with the story. It is a complete and satisfying story in and of itself. It is very likely that I will continue on with this series, but I don't feel like I have to. And I truly appreciate that.