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Dear Maggie,

I read Wildwood, by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis, quite a while ago but I decided it needed a post of its own before we get into The Fault in Our Stars craziness.

During the holiday season, Wildwood topped a ridiculous number of Pacific NW bestsellers lists. This is partly because Portlanders love to read about Portland, but also because the author is the lead singer of The Decemberists, it was illustrated by his wife, and, oh yeah, it is a reasonably entertaining middle grade adventure story.

For a short time before Christmas I worked at Powell’s and the hubbub around Wildwood was something to behold. We received an email one morning warning us that Wildwood was out of stock at both the distributer and the publisher. We had 75 left in the store and that would last Powell’s a day and a half. Yeah, you read that right: Powell’s sold 75 copies of one book in a day and a half. Geez, Powell’s and its ridiculous hugeness.

One of the staff members unearthed a used copy of Wildwood in the resorting area. Used copies of new, popular books are extremely rare since people are too busy buying and reading them to sell the books back. This, combined with the short Wildwood supply, had fellow staff members pleading with the lucky discoverer: “Are you going to buy that? You sure? I could give it a warm and loving home!”

I’d then leave work and go to a holiday craft fair or art festival and each one included a book signing of Wildwood, with lines going out the door.  There is a signed special edition of the book, exclusively at Powell’s, with a $100 price tag.

By the time I finally picked up the book, all I could think was, “ok ok, I’ll read it!!”

Art copyright © 2011 by Unadoptable Books LLC

Now, the story itself: One afternoon, Prue is babysitting her baby brother when he is kidnapped by a murder of crows. She watches as he’s flown from her home in St. John’s across the river into the Impassable Wilderness, the mysterious and forbidden place from which no one returns. The adventure begins when Prue decides to go after him accompanied by Curtis, a classmate she reluctantly allows to tag along.

Prue discovers the Impassable Wilderness is actually a world of talking animals, overly large birds, coyote armies, incompetent governments, mailmen with shotguns, mystics, bandits, and an evil Dowager Governess (think White Queen of Narnia). There are the countries of South Wood, North Wood, the Avian Principality, and Wildwood, each with their own interests. Overshadowing everything is the Dowager Governess and her grief-driven quest to conquer it all. Rescuing the baby and defeating the Governess become the duel goals of Prue and Curtis.

There is no way I can be objective about this book. I am a Portlander, I like to read about Portland. My favorite things about the book were all the Portlandy tidbits slipped in, such as Prue’s parents going to the farmer’s market and drinking rice milk. The locations are all real Portland landmarks: the secret way into Wildwood is by Ghost Bridge (IRL the St. John’s Bridge), South Wood’s seat of government is Pittock Mansion, the South Wood Prison is the Oregon Zoo, and the Avian Principality is near-ish the location of the Audubon Society.

South Wood's HQ

My favorite Portlandy detail of all is the evil Dowager Governess’ battle strategy. She plans to take over the Wood by (Spoiler Alert!) awakening the Ivy (with baby blood, of course) and having it consume everything in sight. As someone who has gone on ivy-eradication missions, I greatly appreciate the evilness of ivy.

So was the book good? Yes, but with the caveat that it’s written as a classic children’s fantasy in a stylized sort of way. The fun is not so much in the plot (which is a very standard rescue-the-baby-and-save-the-kingdom kind of thing) but the imagining of the world. Would it be as entertaining a read for a non-Portlander? Sure…but then I’m not the person to ask.