A forest looms over Bardun Village. Nobody goes in. Nothing comes out. The secrets in the oaks remain hidden until a mischievous escapade thrusts Martin and Elodie behind the silent trees. Separated and lost in a tangle of fantasy, they discover more than animals roam where the woods grow wild.
“Is he dangerous when he's mad?” Martin asked.
“That all depends on how you feel about getting turned into a tree.”
This is just one of the many lines that had me laughing out loud as I read Nate Philbrick's latest fantasy novel. It was quotes like these, posted on his Twitter feed in the days before the book's release, that made me eager to read it in the first place. When the launch date finally arrived, I was not disappointed.
Where the Woods Grow Wild is a story about two kids getting lost in the woods, and the various unusual creatures and people they encounter there. The formula is a time-honored one, but the plot, characterization, and storyworld are wholly unique. Nothing happens quite the way you expect it to. I won't spoil any plot twists, but suffice it to say there are a lot of them. The whole book is infused with a delightful, whimsical tone in the vein of “Over the Garden Wall” – though that's not to say there aren't dark moments as well. Mr. Philbrick handles both the light-hearted and serious elements with equal skill. The protagonists are all likable and realistic, with believable reactions to the predicaments they find themselves in. The most refreshing aspect of the story was Martin and Elodie's relationship. It's taken as read from the beginning that they're in love, and while their relationship is tested by the story's events, their interactions never become maudlin. They're best friends just as much as they are boyfriend and girlfriend. I found myself cheering for Elodie in particular as she braved all manner of setbacks in order to rescue Martin from an unthinkable fate. (Elodie is awesome. And by the end of the story, she's even more awesome.)
I'm very pleased this charming book is the first in a series, as I began missing its characters the moment I finished it. Buy it today. You won't regret it.