Otherwood by Pete Hautman
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Number of pages: 320
Publishing: September 11th, 2018
Source: Publisher in exchange for an honest review
"Years later, people still talked about it.
It came out of nowhere, they said.
Middle of the day.
Black as night.
Trees bent and twisted like blades of grass."
The last book of Pete Hautman's I've read and enjoyed was Slider, it's a book about a boy who enters a competitive eating contest to pay off an online auction he entered but couldn't afford. Not only was it a humorous story, I really liked the way that David's relationship with his younger brother Mal, who has autism was so realistically portrayed. So, when I read the premise of how Otherwood is a "book about memory and loss and the destructive nature of secrets, but also about the way friendship, truth, and perseverance have the ability to knit a torn-apart world back together." Yep, I jumped at the chance to read it.
When Stuey was eight years old, a terrible storm came through his town. While Stuey and his mom went and hid in the cellar, Stuey's grandfather decided to wait it out in his cottage guarding a book he had been writing. After the storm subsided, Stuey found the pages of his grandfather's book strewed around the room and that his beloved grandfather had passed away. Since then, Stuey likes to explore the families orchard, wander through the meadow and spend time in his favorite spot within the poplar grove where nestled among the trees he found the remnants of a golf course, originally built by his great-grandfather. Hidden even further in is also a deadfall or a group of five entangled trees creating a spot where just the right size kid can crawl inside. A secret fort.
Stuey is a slightly shy and lonely boy, until the summer he meets Elly Rose. Elly lives on the other side of the woods and shares the same birthday as Stuey. They both have quite the imagination. At first, Stuey doesn't know what to think of Elly Rose, especially after she says they're to become "soul mates" and starts talking about a magical kingdom within the woods. However, Elly's stories about Castle Rose win him over. Not only does Stuey share his special spot with Elly the two quickly bond and become the best of friends. Then one day while playing in the woods, Elly vanishes before Stuey's eyes.
As the story progresses, we learn of a feud that existed between Elly and Stuey's family dating back to their great-grandfathers. Stuey's great-grandfather was a bootlegger who tried to go legit by building a country club and golf course. However, he had horribly discriminatory practices in his admissions to the club. Elly's great-grandfather was a district attorney and sought to put Stuey's in jail. In the end, both of them went missing following a horrible disagreement. Thus, setting up the mystery surrounding what exactly happened to the two of them.
The overall plot is slowly revealed with a huge twist somewhere around the middle that I never saw coming. It totally blew me away with how the direction of the story changed from not just being a mystery about the past. I really don't want to say too much more about it, cause spoilers, but wow Hautman had me guessing as to how things were going to resolve. Otherwood's a much deeper read than I was expecting. At first, I thought it was going to be along the lines of something like Bridge to Terabithia, a fantastical tale of kids creating a hidden world in the forest. Which is a very small part of this story, but there are also ghosts, themes of the loss of a grandparent, discrimination, grief of a missing friend, mans impact on the environment, reality, perception, memory, secrets and holding onto a friendship. Hautman's afterword where he states how the book was a "eulogy to the woods that live now only in my memory" leaves you with a lot to think about.