BookBrowse Reviews Wildwood by Carson Ellis, Colin Meloy

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Wildwood by Carson Ellis, Colin Meloy X
Wildwood by Carson Ellis, Colin Meloy
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2011, 560 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2012, 576 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Smith

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A spellbinding tale full of wonder that juxtaposes the thrill of a secret world and modern city life. Ages 9+

Here is a world where coyotes have formed an army, where animals talk, where humans and animals live side by side like equals, and where plants and trees can communicate. We're not in Portland anymore. Or are we? Part of the unique and successful structure of Wildwood comes from Colin Meloy's ability to bring these fantastical elements together with the recognizable foundation of Portland, Oregon and its wild - but very real - Forest Park. This highly creative story and firmly grounded landscape, combined with a familiar culture of bureaucratic red tape and politics-as-usual, creates a remarkable debut, one that speaks to - and about - our present state of affairs, as well as our wildest imaginations.

Wildwood Park
A view of one tiny part of the 40 mile Wildwood Trail in Portland, Oregon
Prue McKeel is at the center of Wildwood, a fierce and determined twelve year old bird lover of a girl. When she is entrusted by her parents to watch her baby brother Mac for the day and she witnesses him abducted by a murder of crows, all three of those traits - her fierceness, her determination and her ornithology obsession - are set into high gear as she makes the life changing decision to follow her captured brother into the Impassible Wilderness, a place she has been told never to enter. Just before she goes in, Curtis Mehlberg, a social outcast from Prue's school, joins her - a life changing decision for him as well. They begin their journey together, but are soon separated. Colin Meloy deftly takes the reader back and forth between Prue and Curtis' stories, thus weaving together the various political sides of an ancient war in Wildwood (aka the Impassible Wilderness) and creating a landscape, society and story that is rich, multifaceted and full of intrigue.

The scope of Wildwood is enormous. The landscape of this new world is vast - North Woods, South Woods, the Avian Principality, and Wildwood proper, and it is populated with a multitude of characters, both human and animal. This density of place and character could be confusing to follow, but Colin Meloy writes about each of them with a level of careful detail that allows the reader to keep them all separate and clear."

Wildwood is truly a collaboration between Colin Meloy and illustrator Carson Ellis. Carson Ellis' pen and gouache illustrations are a perfect complement to the story. Her visual representations of memorable characters like Prue, Curtis, the Owl Prince, Brendan King of the Bandits and others are quirky, endearing and add a layer to the narrative that further connects and endears the reader to this new world.

Are we in Portland anymore?  Yes and no. That is the magic of Wildwood. Many of us can look out our windows - past our streets, past the river, past the train tracks - and into the woods that border our own neighborhoods. What other worlds just might exist within these wild places?

Wildwood, the first in a three book series, is well suited for middle grade and young adult readers, and will especially appeal to adventurers!

Reviewed by Tamara Smith

This review is from the September 21, 2011 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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