Just to make sure we're clear, Wildwood, the novel by Colin Meloy, illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis, is not set in the popular Jersey Shore town, but rather in the mythical Impassable Wilderness near Portland, OR. That's where Prue, the seventh grade heroine of this epic children's tale, ventures on a rescue mission after her baby brother is snatched away from the playground by crows that fly him into the woods. Once in Wildwood, Prue, along with Curtis, her endearingly dorky hanger-on of a sidekick, encounter bandits, mystics, owl princes, coyote soldiers, and all manner of talking animals. It's a novel that's one part fairy tale and one part action-adventure story, with a tiny dash of Beatrix Potter's sensibilities thrown into the mix. Meloy's writing style is pretty much what you would expect if you are familiar with his lyrics with The Decemberists--sweeping in scope with lots of quirky, intricate details. It's quite sophisticated and seems like it would "talk up", rather than talk down, to the younger audience it's meant for.
Although there's a lot to appreciate about this book, somehow it didn't capture me as much as I had hoped it would based on the many rave reviews I'd seen. Its 500+ pages felt slow going at times--not a slog by any means, but still slower than expected for this kind of book. I've been trying to pinpoint what didn't work for me and I think it may have been that there was actually too much action in the story. Sounds counter intuitive, I know. The best way I can try to explain it is to make a Harry Potter comparison. All of the books in the Potter series are filled with scenes of action and danger, but they're also augmented with scenes that are more peaceful, even if darker suspense is still lurking in the background. J.K. Rowling takes time to explore the dorms at Hogwarts, describe what goes on in the library and at mealtimes, and follow the characters in a Quidditch game. She gives the reader time to enjoy the everyday life that's the backdrop for the adventure in each book. The world of Wildwood is just as intricately created, but I found it harder to absorb and appreciate all of the details when the characters were always in dire straits, moving from one adventure right into the next. I would have loved to see a bit more of the book devoted to the characters experiencing the magic elements of Wildwood in a more relaxed way.
All of that being said, I don't want to downplay how well imagined this novel really is. I know many other readers have loved it, so just because I didn't get love it doesn't mean that someone else might not find them themselves captivated. And if all else fails, the beautiful, lush illustrations are so interesting to look at that it's satisfying enough to just page through and appreciate it as an object of art.