Hazel is an imaginative fifth grader who lives next door to her best friend Jack. They have always played together being superheroes or knights or anything their imagination can come up with. Until one day Jack gets a sliver of glass in his eye and everything changes. Suddenly, Hazel is babyish and Jack doesn’t want to spend any time with her. Then he disappears; supposedly to visit an aunt (who no one knew existed). Hazel doesn’t understand this sudden change and she doesn’t cope with it very well. Jack was her one friend and confidant, the one person she could always count on. Her world without him is not so great. She doesn’t fit in at school, she doesn’t have any friends and everyone things she is Crazy Hazy. Her father has left and doesn’t have time for her and her mother just wants her to grow up and deal with everything maturely. But Hazel knows something is going on with Jack and when Taylor tells her he saw Jack go into the woods with an impossibly tall, thin woman she decides to follow him. What happens next is a quest straight out of fairy tales. Hazel encounters different beings that challenge her on her quest to get to Jack; however, they also help her find herself and her strength to go on. In the end she does rescue Jack and get him back to civilization. But you don’t know if things will ever be the same.
You can’t help but feel for Hazel throughout this book. She is a misfit who lives in a world of imagination. Unfortunately, those around her only deal with reality. It makes it really hard for her to fit in. And then her one rock, her point of salvation, Jack turns on her and she gets no sympathy or help. Her mother constantly pushes her to be more realistic and to make more friends and to basically be someone she is not. She isn’t the most supportive of mothers, not that she is a bad mom, just not really clued in to who her daughter is or what she needs. But Hazel knows and she sets out to get it. She knows that even if she and Jack aren’t best friends anymore they should still be in each others lives. She knows something is wrong with him even when no one else does. Her journey through the woods challenges her in ways she never imagined but each challenge makes her stronger and more determined on her quest.
The story is a great mix of fairytale fantasy and reality. Jack’s plight and the journey through the woods can be seen as a metaphor for childhood friends growing up and apart but it is also a classical fairytale journey. It works on both levels and I think that is the strength of this book. Hazel does have to grow up a bit in this book; she has to accept that things are not always going to be as they were. She does this but not after some personal struggles. This is such a wonderful book and I would highly recommend it.