This book was fantastically beautifully written! I've not encountered writing in a children's book that made my breath catch or forced me to re-read a sentence several times just to appreciate its beauty anywhere outside of a Newberry medalist. The whole first half of this book made me wonder over and over again why this WASN'T a Newberry medalist.
After finishing the book, I do understand why it's not, and agree that it shouldn't be. But that in no way diminishes my appreciation of the language here.
I also appreciated the themes the book deals with: how we cope with loss and pain and change, the little compromises we make with ourselves in order to be socially acceptable, the way we all have to freeze our hearts just a little in order to survive, and the way we all need someone to remind us what we're really made of so that we don't let the freezing go too far.
I thought the first half of the book dealt with these themes spectacularly. Hazel is sympathetic (if borderline-pitiful with her co-dependence) and watching what Jack is going through through her eyes was lovely and touching.
The second half of the book, the symbols kept getting muddled in my head, and I wasn't always entirely sure who was supposed to represent what. I did find it interesting that there never was an actual final "battle" as one expects to find in a fantasy book. It makes sense, since the "enemy" is really our own desire to stop feeling so we don't have to hurt anymore.
The biggest disappointment here was the ending. It seemed startlingly abrupt. And with the way it cast doubt on the entire story, not only undermined its message, but made it seem less worth my time.
Both the language and the themes here are too advanced for even my most advanced readers, but I enjoyed this book for myself!
Some favorite quotes:
"It would be so much easier if Jack were in her class. At least then there would be one part of the room where she belonged."
"There were some days, ever since the summer, when the whole feel of Jack seemed to change. Like suddenly, instead of being made of baseball and castles and superheroes and Jack-ness, he was made of something scratchy and thick. Hazel could tell, because he had been her best friend for years, and you can tell when your best friend is suddenly made of something else. And all she could do was try to remind him what he was really made of."
"She walked through the hallways alone. She had done this before, but there was always the idea of Jack, a ghost of him that grinned as it accompanied her."
"In the air around her, Jack laughed, Jack hooted, Jack cackled, Jack snickered, Jack was a whole thesaurus entry of glee."
"So, if someone's changed overnight--by witch curse or poison apple or were-turtle--you have to show them what's good. You show them love. That works a surprising amount of the time. And if that doesn't save them, they're not worth saving."
"It would just be like she was a leper, and leprosy really wasn't so bad once you made it a part of your routine."
"She looked at her shelves, filled with books in which the bad stuff that happened to people was caused by things like witches who lured people into the woods. In a weird way, the world seemed to make more sense that way."
"Now, Hazel was not stupid. She knew that just because you see a piece of cake and a sign that says EAT ME doesn't mean you should actually do it. And just because two giant ravens point you in the direction of a path doesn't mean you should take it. But it was the only path she had."
"'And get out of the woods as fast as you can. The woods do not mean you well.'
'But I'm not doing anything wrong. I'm just trying to rescue Jack. That's good.'
He eyed her. 'I know. And that should matter. But it doesn't.'"
"'But'--Nina tilted her head--'he chose something else, don't you see? He doesn't want you anymore.'
Hazel glanced at the ground, and then looked back up at Nina. 'It doesn't matter.'
Nina gazed at her searchingly. 'Doesn't it?'
Of course it mattered. The mattering of it filled her up until she threatened to burst with it. But it wasn't the only thing that mattered."
"There were so many Jacks she had known, and he had known so many Hazels. And maybe she wasn't going to be able to know all the Jacks that there would be. But all the Hazels that ever would be would have Jack in them somewhere."