By Cynthia Bujnicki
A tragic accident leaves Lenora the only living member of her family until her estranged uncle comes to take her to his mansion and care for her. He has but one rule: do not go into the woods. The woods swallowed up her cousin years ago, breaking her uncle’s heart. However, in her loneliness, Lenora finds enchantment and magic in the woods, an escape from her grief and sorrow. However, there is something darker in the woods that is hunting Lenora.
The Woods is a compelling novel that follows Lenora as she tries to navigate her way through the devastation that has left her an orphan. Moved to a strange new place with her estranged uncle, Lenora is learning to find a way to make peace with the grief that threatens to break her spirit.
This story is a mature read that is perfectly paced to engage readers. The chapters are short and sweet, formatted in a way that works to enchant readers. Lenora’s voice is relatable and compelling, it is young and fresh, and her narrative is realistic. Lenora sounds like a child trying to navigate through this new life she has been thrust into while also trying to manage her grief and her denial.
Toalson worked hard to create a moving story that also has a chilling tale at its core. While it deals with grief, the story takes the perspective and attitude of three different characters to show how sorrow affects people, how it can twist a person in the way they choose to deal with it. Toalson is teaching readers how to deal with grief by sharing this lesson with readers. The progression shows readers that while it may be tempting, even simpler to allow grief to take over, acceptance, opening one’s heart, while challenging at times, is a better way to live.
The Woods brings to life such an invigorating and easy to read tale for readers. The magical realism is presented in such rich detail, perfect for building the imagination of the reader. It goes beyond fantasy. The depth and meaning in the story elevate it from while still maintaining the ease for young readers while the eerie elements that bring the sorrow to life and give it that haunting feeling.
Meant for audiences as young as twelve, and while the themes may be mature, the structure and fluidity make it accessible to young readers and a novel that is great for parents or guardians to share with young readers. (★★★☆☆)