The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees
ARC received from Netgalley for a fair review.
Publish Date: March 12, 2019
It took me until about 60% of this book to finally just sit back and read it for enjoyment rather than trying to understand what it was exactly that I was reading. The Waking Forest is written in a poetic way, with descriptions that are above and beyond, and metaphors and similes galore. You don’t simply just read this book, you actually experience it. It is almost a mental head trip through a magical forest, and a ghostly attic. I had to finally just drop the reins and let the book take me where it would because trying to understand every little detail will drive you insane. I didn’t hate it, but at the same time I didn’t love it either because of the fact that I was trying to so hard in the beginning to solve the mystery and catch any little nuance that would give me a clue as to what it all meant. But that only lead me to more confusion and it wasn’t until I finally just said, oh well lets just read this for the mystery it is, that I was finally able to just enjoy the words on the page. Its not your typical story with a clear this is the beginning, middle, and end. You jump around a lot from one world to another and learn of all sorts of events that happen in the between. But somehow they all do manage to come together in the end.
The Waking Forest is two different stories in one. Told from alternating chapters, one story is of a girl named Rhea who lives with her family in a beach house and suffers from nightmares regardless if she is asleep or awake. Doctors and her parents have summed it up to stress and anxiety, but when one especially vivid nightmare leads Rhea to think that sleeping in the attic will solve her sleepwalking problem she discovers a whole new side to her condition. In the dark of the attic, Rhea is confronted by a boy who is made of the dark, who cannot be seen in the light. He tells her that if she can remember his name, then he will cure her. The other story in The Waking Forest is of the Witch in the Woods who waits for children to come to her in their dreams and ask for a wish. The Witch lives only to grant others wishes and has none of her own, until one day a brother and sister who are much older than any other children who have ever come to her before, arrive and disrupt her happy little life of bliss and dancing and wishes. When the brother and sister leave, the boy asks the Witch what her wish is. Not having ever been asked this she says she has no wish, only to give wishes to children who come to her. But when the boy shows up again another night disguised as a fox, the Witch begins to realize she is living a lie and maybe she does have a wish of her own.
The atmosphere in this book was very eerie and not quite magical, but mystical would be the better word to describe it. The characters seem unreliable in the sense that none of them really knows whats going on, and therefore as a reader neither do you. I kept waiting for a clue to fall into place as to what the woods are behind the beach house, or if the witch is real or a myth, and who is the boy in the attic!?? But the further into the book you go, the more questions seem to pop up. The beach house where Rhea and her many other R named sisters run around is easy to imagine with the garden in the backyard, and a house full of girls. And the woods where the Witch resides is such a creepy yet simple life with her foxes and castle made of teeth and bones. I had no problem visualizing this story especially with all of the rich descriptions. And with a very distinct, haunting atmosphere there is no question how you are to picture the setting.
The setting is also set more towards current times in the real world setting where Rhea lives. There are cell phones and cars and all the technology we use today in our lives. So its refreshing when some of the main characters are shown in a less than perfect light. Rhea like I mentioned above, is a victim of extreme anxiety. Her nightmares and sleep walking don’t help in this respect but she has a great home support system with a family that looks out for her and helps her to realize she will get through it even though at the time it can seem like the end of the world. Anxiety is a real problem for some people and its good to have this representation in a book so people can know they are not alone in their struggle and they too will get through this. Also towards the end we realize that Rhea isn’t the only one struggling. And guess who steps up to the plate to help, Rhea.
I don’t know that I would highly recommend this book to many people just because I did struggle with the flow of the plot and the writing a little bit. I am a huge fan of creative writing and poetic phrases, but in the end I still want to understand what I’m reading and feel less like I’m trying to decipher a hidden clue in a Dr. Seuss book. Some people might fall in love with this book though for all the same reasons it just wasn’t for me. While the writing bothered me, it was still good writing. And the author has a very distinct way of describing everything with life and emotion tied into each and every description. I’m sure that this was a huge labor of love on her part and for that I can’t hate it. But for me, I would like that effort to be applied into other areas of the book such as the plot and the characters. I like to feel like I’m not reading but a part of the story myself and I couldn’t get into The Waking Forest like I wanted to because I was constantly rereading entire paragraphs thinking, “What did I just read?” and because of this my reading flow was constantly interrupted. Its a great story but the reading experience that goes along with it takes some getting used to. If you do decide to read this, I hope you love it and enjoy the ride!
If you liked this book:
If you’re looking for something similar to The Waking Forest, then I think you would enjoy Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke. Both of these books left me with a feeling of wonderment as to how the story unfolds. To be completely honest, at the end of Wink Poppy Midnight I wasn’t sure what I had just read. If you asked me to summarize it, I wouldn’t know where to begin, or how to end. Both of these books are extremely unique with poetic writing and a bit of a twisted story to tell. But in the end there is something that makes them good enough to not want to put down, if not to see how the trainwreck ends. I love the writing in both of these and its almost abstract in a way, in the end you are left guessing if what you read was actually what happened or if there is some sort of hidden meaning behind the events that took place. In short, they are a little confusing but in a good way. With unreliable narrators, you aren’t sure if the story being told is the whole truth which leads to you second guess everything else you have read from the very beginning. Its an interesting way to read a book, but it also keeps you on your toes.
Have you ever read a book where no matter how much you wanted to love it, something was just missing? What book was that for you? If not, what is the deal breaker for you when reading that you can’t get past? Do you enjoy purple prose? I’d love to know what you all think!!!