The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
The Darkest Part of the Forest was a beautiful, fast-paced novel, which upended gender norms with effortless grace. It features a strong, willful, female lead who dreams of slaying monsters and saving the world. Unlike some feminist pieces, this novel doesn't fall into the trap of contrasting strong female characters with a host of weak male characters-- the male characters here are strong and flawed and relatable.
Each characters' strengths and flaws were showcased as they fought monsters and puzzled out riddles, in this surreal world comprised of both faeries and Facebook, of charms and curses and English class. This might sound expected-- isn't that what all authors do?-- but I want to take just a brief second to talk about this.
One of my favorite sitcoms of all times, Brooklyn 99, features characters who exist all across the gender spectrum. You have female characters with stereotypical masculine traits, female characters with stereotypical feminine characteristics, same for the male characters. You get the point. However! For the non-macho male characters, every now and then, their non-macho-ness comes in handy. You know, they can solve the crime because they follow every food blogger in the city and know all about the latest food trends in a very non-manly way but hey it's cool because they just solved a murder. And the macho male characters have their macho-ness come in handy at various points in the show. Here's the thing though-- while there exists a female character who's super 'macho', her BA attitude, her strength-- all those non-feminine traits are seen as a hindrance and never are used to her advantage.
In Darkest Part of the Forest, Hazel is unrepentantly full of "non-feminine" traits. But this isn't seen as a problem she needs to overcome, rather she is treated like a normal person, where sometimes her reckless tendency to charge into a dangerous situation is helpful and sometimes it's really not.
Now that I've properly fan-girled over gender representation, let's move on, shall we?
Another thing that I loved about this book is that one of the most important relationships was the relationship between Hazel and her brother Ben. Yes, there is are romantic sub-plots and those are fun, but the author really focused on the brother-sister bond, which is a relationship that I feel we don't get enough of in literature. (or maybe I'm reading the wrong books!)
As previously mentioned, I love books that are inventive. I love new ideas or new representations and on this count Holly Black gets an A for her representation of fairies. They are beautiful and otherworldly, dangerous and dark.
While there were many things Holly Black excelled out, that does not mean this book was without its faults. Let me preface this one by saying I don't read YA books much at all. However, the characters in this book were just so young. They had this whole tragic backstory thing but y'all when your character is like 16, their tragic backstory happened when they were like ten. It was just hard to believe, reading about this ten year old who taught herself swordplay and went to go kill living creatures with her sword. Like, you're ten. When I was ten I dreamed about slaying monsters but in no way shape or form was I about to go off into a dangerous forest by myself.
“Once, there was a girl who vowed she would save everyone in the world, but forgot herself.”
Also, while I loved the lyric prose, this novel was written in a very distinct writing style that if you don't mesh with then this book is not for you. It's hard to explain, her writing style, but while it isn't arrogant it can err on the side of grandiose at times.
"They were in love with him because he was a prince and a faerie and magical and you were supposed to love princes and faeries and magic people. They loved him the way they’d loved Beast the first time he swept Belle around the dance floor in her yellow dress. "
In summary, this book was a delightful read and an imaginative take on classic story, with enough twists to keep me surprised.
What about you? Have you ever read The Darkest Part of the Forest? If so, what did you think?