________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 23 . . . . February 19, 2016


Hannah & the Wild Woods.

Carol Anne Shaw.
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2015.
271 pp., trade pbk., ebook & pdf, $11.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55380-440-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55380-441-3 (ebook), ISBN 978-1-55380-442-0 (pdf).

Subject Heading:
Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, Japan, 2011-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Kris Rothstein.

*** /4



"I may be a Zenko kitsune, but I am a failure. And the thing is, I don't even care anymore. I might as well be dead."

"What are you talking about?" I say. "That's a terrible thing to say."

"You are naive, Hannah," Kimiko says. "It's
so much more complicated than you know." She pauses. "Do you remember our first conversation? The one when I asked you about your family? When I asked about your mother and father?"

"Of course."

"Well, my father. He has been dead a long time."

"But you don't know that for sure. I mean for all you knows, he could be-"

"He has been dead for almost 850 years."

Wait. What?

"He was mortal, Hannah," Kimiko says. He was human. But my mother, my mother is an ancient and very powerful kitsune."

"Wait. Are you telling me you're-"

"I am not pure kitsune, but I'm not entirely human, either. I don't fit into either world. That's why my magic is so unreliable-why I make so many mistakes. I'm like a misshapen puzzle piece, the one that will never fit in well enough to complete the picture."

"But all those tails? I've seen them! You have to earn them, don't you? You couldn't have earned all those tails if you are as bad a kitsune as you say you are."

"Fluke," Kimiko says. "Fluke, and a lot of help from our clan. My mother is ashamed of me, and has always been concerned about dishonouring her name. If I fail before all the others, she would lose respect from the clan. No, I cannot take credit for my tails. If it had just been left solely to me, I would still have only one."

I'm silent, because it feels like anything I might say will come out sounding trite.

Hannah is back for another adventure, this time without her boyfriend Max or her friend Izzy. It's spring break, and 14-year-old Hannah is a volunteer on the west coast of Vancouver Island where she is cleaning debris after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011. For 10 days, she stays at the Artful Elephant lodge with the owner Ruth, the project facilitator Peter and his graduate student girlfriend. At the last minute, Hannah is joined by her nemesis Sabrina, the snarky blonde who generally causes trouble wherever possible and makes fun of Hannah for being a tomboy. And soon there is another volunteer, Kimiko, a slightly older girl from Japan. Hannah can soon tell that there is something odd about Kimiko. With her experience of the supernatural, she is not surprised to discover that Kimiko is a kitsune, the Japanese spirit fox. She is looking for her hoshi no tama, a glass ball which holds her powers. She is actually a 900-year-old being, half spirit fox, half human. She feels torn between two worlds, unable to control her powers. She is also being visited by an Okami, a wolf who, she believes, is trying to communicate an important message. Hannah must help Kimiko combat despair, help her decipher the wolf's message and then help the wolf return to her pack.

      Like the second book in this series, Hannah and the Salish Sea, Hannah and the Wild Woods is wonderfully evocative of the animal world. It has a host of animal characters, each with its own personality. It is a pleasure to see this appreciation of other living beings in books for children. Hannah's sidekick, the raven Jack, is given an even bigger role. While Hannah takes the float plane to Tofino, Jack flies to be with her, arriving many hours later. He is always there to guard her, but when he is killed in a storm while trying to recover Kimiko's hoshi no tama, Kimiko sacrifices her own immortality in order to resurrect him. The new Jack has turned completely white, but there can be no doubt that it is he. He's a funny, loyal, eccentric bird, and his character is one of the highlights of the story. As well as Sitka, the gentle young wolf who is trying to teach Kimiko about connecting with her home, there are many other wolves and bears who pop up in the story. Hannah is never afraid of wildlife but understands the different creatures as part of her larger environment, all with a role to play.

      The family bond is one of the main themes of this book. Kimiko has no family, and this is perhaps why she feels so lost. Hannah's dad is away a lot, but they share a strong bond. That is one reason why it is especially difficult when Hannah learns, at the beginning of the novel, that her father and his new girlfriend have already chosen a house in Victoria without consulting her. Not only is she not sure she is ready for a new mother figure, but she loves the houseboat she lives on and the quirky community of Cowichan Bay. By the end of the story, her friends have taught her that it does not matter where she lives as long as her family is healthy and happy and together.

      For this third book, Shaw threw in many new elements while keeping some of the successful essentials from the previous stories. We return to the single narrator after having Izzy's point of view for half of the previous book. In this story, Hannah is on her own (as she was when she travelled back in time in book one) and has to problem solve for herself. Shaw removed Hannah's friends and family from the story, allowing her to grow more independent and resilient and to create her own relationship with Kimiko. Here, Hannah is the mature one, even though Kimiko is an ancient being. Hannah's past magical experiences allow her to quickly see that extraordinary events are taking place and she has the insight and intuition to navigate the supernatural world. It was excellent to have a completely new and unexplored magical element for this book and to learn something about Japanese mythology.

      As always, Shaw is deft in her creation of the supporting characters. They are all so very much part of their places and add both local colour and a feeling of authenticity. Tofino and the wild parts of Vancouver Island are brought to life vividly. BC natives will enjoy seeing the wild woods make it into print, and readers from elsewhere will get a real sense of the mood of the Canadian rainforest.

      One of my only complaints is the character of Sabrina. She was extraneous and annoying in book two and is even more so in this story where she has progressed from minor to major character. While Shaw does actually make the eventual truce between the girls believable, I'm not sure this extra storyline was necessary. Sabrina is the only character who is a stereotype - a poor little rich girl, ignored by her family, being mean to protect herself.

      Fans of the earlier books will appreciate spending more time with the smart, spunky Hannah who becomes a stronger heroine with every installment. And first-time readers could easily enjoy this novel without knowing much of the backstory. While the book is perhaps a bit longer than warranted by the actual material (some sections are a bit too easy to skim through), Hannah and the Wild Woods may be the most successful in the series.


Kris Rothstein is a children's book agent and reviewer in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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