I was reading the New Yorker when I saw an ad for Wildwood written by Colin Meloy and illustrated by Carson Ellis. I am a big fan of Maile Meloy, Colin’s sister, but I’m also a fan of The Decemberists, so I reasoned that I would love this book.
As fate would have it, Colin and Carson were visiting my local library to give a talk on the creative process of the sequel to Wildwood, Under Wildwood. Husband bought me both books for my birthday and we were able to see both author and illustrator before I read either of the books. I’ll admit, hearing them talk about how the story came to life made me appreciate the book so much more.
And here are the reasons I loved Wildwood:
First of all, I had to look stuff up. I love a book that challenges me. I thought that since this was a book for children ages 9 and up that I would just speed though the book. The vocabulary was so rich I had to look up words in nearly every chapter. Of course I could figure them out with context clues, but it was so much more fun to look up things like machinations (a crafty & involved plot to achieve your sinister ends) which also turned out to be a really neat 80s band with a song called “My hearts on fire.” I also looked up Kurosawa movies because there was a Kung-Fu reference in one of the earlier chapters.
Secondly, Prue, one of the main characters makes a reference to praying to Nancy Drew, patron saint of sleuthing and this instantly reminded me of the way I always pray to different writers to help me through hard times. IE: Scott F. Fitzgerald patron saint of hopeless cause writers. The book has many funny and unexpected moments that I even I as a thirty year old could identify with.
But most of all I loved this book because it took me to the impassible wilderness and kept me there for five hundred pages. I read this book at a time when reading was nearly impossible for me due to complications with bipolar disorder. Finishing each chapter was a triumph for me, and coming to the end brought me to tears, half because the book was so good, but half because I felt myself coming out of the impassible wilderness of my mind.
And when the words were too hard for me to focus on, I found that I could stare at the gorgeous illustrations that captured major moments in the book perfectly and helped me understand what I was reading.
The book did what every good book should do—it made me a better person, and made me feel like life was worth living. That sounds melodramatic, but fiction is supposed to take us to a new place, not just for the span of the book, but for the span of our lives.
And then it doesn’t matter if all my prayers to Scott F. Fitzgerald, Richard Yates, or Flannery O’Connor are heard or answered. Writers like Colin Meloy give all that they can in their stories and who would I be to ask for anything more?