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Review: Wildwood Whispers - Willa Reece

Genre: Magical Realism

Published: Redhook Publishing, August 2021

My Rating: 5/5 stars

"It felt as if I was fighting this injustice, which was crazy: I was making jam and bread. And yet, the truth of the fight pounded in my heart when i realized that jam and bread from the wildwood was life. The simple power of life itself. By sharing what I made, I was sharing the ongoing cycle of life with others."

Set against the background of the a small Appalachian village and its lush surrounding woods, Wildwood Whispers delivers a story that is the perfect bittersweet mix of haunting and strangely comforting.

We follow Mel, a young woman in de depths of grief over the loss of her best friend and “foster-system-sister” Sarah. To fulfil her final promise to her friend, Mel travels to Sarah’s birthplace Morgan’s Gap, a seemingly idyllic town nestled in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains, to scatter her ashes in the surrounding Wildwood. Once there, she feels a deep connection to the place, its community of Wisewomen and the hints of Sarah’s memories that linger everywhere.

Wildwood Whispers sets up an ambitious multi-layered story with some heavier underlying themes, and somehow manages to hit it home without missing a beat. With lyrical, descriptive prose, Reece brings to life the town of Morgan’s Gap and all its inhabitants, enveloping the reader like the misty groves envelope the town. Covering grief, healing, religion, prejudice and found family, she displays an impressive emotional range, without ever feeling melodramatic. We veer from melancholy to healing, from nostalgia to hope, and even from safety to claustrophobia in an instant once the thread that lurks among the town inhabitants makes itself clear. Even a non-book-crier like me had to swallow some emotions away at times at the wonderful depiction of grief and found family here…

In addition, this novel feels like a love song to modern green- or hedge witchcraft, and the healing power and lifeforce that can be drawn from nature. There’s a trend of witchy books in publishing at the moment (especially within YA) that is quite hit or miss for me. This is the kind of witch-story that I personally love: a bit more understated, grounded in nature and written with respect for modern witches. No sacrificing black cats or flying on broomsticks here.

Wildwood Whispers is out on August 17th and is one of my most anticipated releases for this month thus far. Although I highly recommend it regardless of the format, I especially endorse the audiobook. For the perfect experience; take this book with you on a walk through nature. I personally listened to it whilst walking the heathers near my town, and it really added to the immersion.

Many thanks to the publishers Redhook and Orbit for providing me with an ARC as well as an early copy of the audiobook.

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