I have to admit, I chose this book from the “Advance Reader’s Copy” box for two reasons. One, because of the cover. I work at an independent bookstore, and we are sent on average two boxes of these advances a month. After a while, all the stories and covers seem to run together. Not this one, however. The cover was of trees, black in the front and fading into what could be the reds and pinks of a snowy dawn. There are two wolves among the trees, pinky reddish shadows. One of them looks at the main character, Hazel, who is timidly looking over her shoulder to the right of the viewer. She wears a backpack and a coat but doesn’t really seem to be prepared for the journey she’s making. The second reason was because it’s officially a children’s book, for grades 3-7 so I knew it was going to be a quick read. Since I needed something to fit in while I was waiting in lines during my errands, I brought it home. I am very glad I did!
Hazel, the girl from the cover, is a gifted girl, full of imagination and creativity. Unfortunately she is trapped in a new-to-her public school where those qualities are frowned upon. I immediately felt for her; her frustration of being around others who only seem to see the dull world, made worse by the fact that she is an adoptee from another country so she immediately doesn’t fit in with the children around her.
Thankfully, though, she has one friend that seems to understand her completely. Her next door neighbour, Jack, seems to speak this unspoken language and has the ability to see the world as she does. Not completely, of course- he has friends from before Hazel arrived that make him “scratchy” and “thick” to her- but enough that she resists making other friends because they aren’t Jack.
When her mother does make her go to a play date with another girl Adelaide, Hazel is surprised to find that she enjoys herself. She even enjoys talking to the new girl’s uncle and she and Adelaide start to tell a story about a Winter Witch, but is interrupted when Hazel has to go home.
The story does tend to hop around a bit (which I’ve tried to replicate in my review: each bit is choppy, even though the entire story flows together). There’s a creature and a magic mirror, which doesn’t mean much except to explain things that happen later on, and quite a bit of the descriptions reminded me a great deal of the Narnia books and Alice in Wonderland. Just before it gets too much to stomach though, the author would make a comment that shows it was intentional. (‘Would you like some Turkish delight?” was one and it made me laugh out loud.) During these hops, Jack gets taken into a magical world and Hazel has to find him. Even as she keeps it in her mind how things happen in “these kinds of stories”, she finds herself being led/ dragged/ wandering into problem after problem.
I won’t tell you what happens that keeps her from/ allows her to find Jack. I won’t even say if there’s a real ‘everything is wrapped up’ ending. I will say that this is the first book I’ve felt compelled to write a review about. Parents? Your children should read this. It has the “feel” of Classic Literature without being “uncool”. Older children? This would be a wonderful gift for a younger sibling… and then borrow it. Third to seventh graders? You’ll like this.