Under Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book II
Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy teams up with his wife, the illustrator Carson Ellis, in this sequel to their popular fantasy WILDWOOD, set in a Portland, Oregon that's only partly recognizable.
Ever since her previous adventures in the area known as the Impassable Wilderness on maps and as Wildwood to its inhabitants, seventh-grader Prue McKeel has been out of sorts. Her grades have plunged, her relationship with her parents has deteriorated, and she has a disturbing tendency to black out. What's more, she seems to have developed the ability to hear plants' thoughts and feelings.
"Much like its predecessor, UNDER WILDWOOD is full of whimsical and charming details, both in its text and in its delightfully drawn illustrations...the Wildwood Chronicles remain as captivating and imaginative as ever, and readers of all ages will enjoy the return journey to --- and under --- Wildwood."
There's only one person with whom Prue could discuss all of this: her friend Curtis, who is still back in Wildwood, undergoing a rigorous training program to become a bandit. When Prue confides in her mysterious (and disturbingly friendly) teacher instead, her revelations have unexpected and dangerous consequences. Fortunately, Curtis and his rat, Septimus (mounted on the backs of a talking heron), rescue Prue just in the nick of time and return her to Wildwood, where she's soon swept up in a quest that will take the fearless adventurers into the bizarre, mole-inhabited environs below Wildwood. After all, as one character says, "'You have to go under to get above.'"
Meanwhile, back in the "real" Portland, Curtis's parents are distraught over their son's disappearance. When they receive word that he might be overseas, they deposit Curtis's sisters Rachel and Elsie at the local orphanage, The Joffrey Unthank Home for Wayward Youth (and Industrial Machine Parts). Despite the orphanage's truly creepy atmosphere, Rachel and Elsie's parents are determined to leave the girls there, and soon the sisters are involved in a quest of their own --- how to escape from the frustrated industrialist Joffrey Unthank and the washed-up Ukrainian B-movie actress Desdemona, who run the place with an iron fist while secretly trying (and pretty much failing) to further their own aspirations.
Much like its predecessor, UNDER WILDWOOD is full of whimsical and charming details, both in its text and in its delightfully drawn illustrations. It also strikes the right balance between fantasy and humor --- the character of Septimus, in particular, can almost always be counted on for a laugh. Consistently shifting viewpoints and vistas help move the story along despite its 500+ pages. If the pace lags, it's primarily when the story segues into discussions of bureaucracy or political minutiae, all of which seem at times more relevant to the adult world than to that of the child reader. That being said, the Wildwood Chronicles remain as captivating and imaginative as ever, and readers of all ages will enjoy the return journey to --- and under --- Wildwood.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 28, 2012