Friday, October 26, 2012

The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood by Barb Bentler Ullman

Willa is relieved when she and her mom move out to Plunkit, a small rural town near her uncle. The divorce was bad enough, with her dad moving across the country to go back to school and live with his brother and her perfect cousins, but living with Grandma Cookie is awful. The constant fighting between her mom and grandmother makes Willa even more stressed and she's always sick and miserable.

Out in the country, she finally feels like she can breathe. She doesn't care when they move into a trashy trailer; they can fix it up (and do). She loves the mysterious forest, even if she is a little worried by some of the strange things she sees. She also loves their elderly and eccentric neighbor, Hazel Wickett, who doesn't have electricity or indoor plumbing. Hazel takes care of Willa while her mom works in her new job in the used book store in town. As Hazel and Willa become friends, and Hazel begins to tell Willa magical stories, Willa's life takes a turn for the better and she realizes that divorce doesn't mean the end of everything. With new hope, new friends, and a reaffirmed belief in her family's love, she's ready to face new challenges and enjoy life in Plunkit.

On the one hand, the descriptions are beautiful, the "is it magic or not?" aspect of the fairies was handled very well and Willa is a strongly realized and emotional character, showing some of the physical consequences of stressful family situations. The story falls just on the acceptable side of the Southern Quirky line for me. On the other hand, many of the characters and situations were too good to be true, so this falls firmly in the fantasy genre for that reason alone. I found it hard to see Willa as a real nine year old. I can't think of any nine year old, urban, modern kid who wouldn't complain a single time about moving out to the country with no tv or spending their days helping an elderly woman with pioneer style chores (outhouse, laundry by hand, pumping water, etc.). Willa occasionally mentions that she's a little tired of the work and it's hard, but she never whines or complains. Willa's mom gets a job in the used book store right away; how many small towns have a used book store? She seems to think it will be fairly easy to make a living from the store in what is described as a very, very small town...that still has a general store and other familiar features of 1950s small town life. Finally, the teenage Vincent in the subplot is also a little too nice to be true and his dad's sudden conversion is hard to believe.

Verdict: A good effort for a first novel, but the characters just aren't very realistic. It feels like the author was really writing a fantasy/historical fiction and then decided to throw in some contemporary references. Kids who love the miniature and don't mind wish-fulfillment stories will still enjoy this though.

ISBN: 9780060736149; Published 2006 by Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins; Borrowed from the library

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