Wildwood by Colin Meloy, 541 pages
I'll readily admit that the main reason I picked up this YA fantasy book is because its author is the lead singer of the Decemberists, one of my favorite bands. I hoped that it would be as fun as the stories in their songs, but wasn't holding my breath.
As it turns out, I could have held my breath after all. The story of a seventh-grader who ventures into the Impassable Wilderness to save her baby brother (who was abducted from an urban park by a murder of crows) is a charming, fantastical tale that includes armies of clothed, talking animals, a double-talking witch and a well-organized group of bandits. Yes, Meloy does draw on his YA predecessors — as well as some of the ideas that he's already put forth in his music — and the book has a high level of hipster appeal, but it's still a great adventure story.
Adding to the appeal are the book's charm are illustrations by Carson Ellis, an acclaimed illustrator of children's books (see The Mysterious Benedict Society) and Decemberists albums. The illustrations match up to the prose in a way that's rare (although it probably helps that she's Meloy's wife and therefore has much more invested in this series).
This is the first book of a planned trilogy of Wildwood Chronicles and I can't wait for the next one.