The Darkest Part of the Forest

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Darkest Part of the Forest Book Poster Image
Teen sibs battle magic foes in convoluted fantasy.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Occasional references to folk songs and legends including Tam Lin. One of the characters quotes a German poem.

Positive Messages

Loyalty, friendship, the bond between siblings, courage.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most characters, including the protagonists, are well-meaning but frequently weak and confused. Hazel and Ben's artist parents are loving but flaky. "If there was another part of her that wished her parents were the kind who might protect her from needing to kill monsters all on her own, at eleven she already knew that was unrealistic. It wasn't as if her parents didn't love her; it was just that they forgot things a lot and sometimes those things were important." Two village parents stand out in their determination to protect their kids against both the village and the Folk.

Violence

A monster kills a dog. A faery character describes how he killed his sister's human husband. The faeries, aka the Folk, kill tourists in horrific fashion. "Some got dragged down into Wight Lake by water hags, bodies cracking the dense mat of algae, scattering the duckweed. Some would be run down at twilight by horses with ringing bells tied to their manes and members of the Shining Folk on their backs. Some would be found strung upside down in trees, bled out and chewed upon." A musically gifted character smashes his hand in a car door.

Sex

There's intense boy-girl, boy-boy, girl-girl, and mortal-faery kissing as a regular occurrence, and one make-out scene involves partial nudity. "Hazel kissed boys for all kinds of reasons -- because they were cute, because she was a little drunk, because she was bored, because they let her, because it was fun, because they looked lonely, because it blotted out her fears for a while, because she wasn't sure how many kisses she had left." A boy character flirts with two girls, "clearly hoping for a best friends sandwich that was never, ever, ever going to happen." Hazel and her brother both fantasize about romance with the horned boy who's sleeping the centuries away in the forest.

Language

Teen characters routinely use vulgar language and profanity, including "s--t," "f--k," "ass," "boobs," "pissed," and so on. "Hell" and "damn" also come up occasionally.

Consumerism

Frequent mention of commercial products (iPod, ChapStick, Volkswagen, Hollister) and musical artists (Nick Drake), more for scene-setting than promotion. Hazel and her brother, Ben, were both "named, humiliatingly, after famous rabbits" (from Watership Down and The Tale of Benjamin Bunny).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Getting drunk (and making out with random people) is a regular activity among Fairfold's teens. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (Doll Bones, The Spiderwick Chronicles) finds confused small-town teens dealing with hormones, boredom, and their town's strange relationship with the supernatural Folk who live in the forest. The Folk have killed humans in horrific ways, including drowning and running them over with horses. The glass coffin in the woods, in which an enchanted faery boy sleeps away the centuries, has been the site of drunken teen make-out parties for generations. Protagonist Hazel, 16, has been slaying monsters since she was 11 (when a monster killed her dog); she also flirts with and kisses every boy in town, for reasons even she doesn't understand. Make-out scenes abound (with opposite-sex, same-sex, and human-faery couples), one of which involves partial nudity. Characters, especially teens, use lots of strong language, including "s--t" and "f--k."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byKjbartolotta September 9, 2015

Great teen characters and an engaging supernatural world.

What I enjoyed was the genuine teen voice offered in this book, unlike many YA authors Holly Black is up to date on what they are in to and it shows. The story... Continue reading
Written byAnonymous August 25, 2016

Modern fantasy

This book has a good premise and carries it out very well. There is a fair amount of romance, and some action. I recommend this to anyone who liked fairy tales/... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLynnoxxei April 16, 2016

Really creative, worth reading

There's a lot of fantasy element and medieval action, and a fair amount of (kind of) disturbing and dark scenes and storyline. Other than that, there is a... Continue reading

What's the story?

At first, the little town of Fairfold seems charming, rustic, and ordinary. Then you notice all the charms and magic signs scattered around the town and the fact that the locals never go out before stocking up on iron filings, filling their pockets with grave dirt, and otherwise trying to ward off the supernatural beings who live in the forest, with whom the town has an uneasy truce. Somehow connected to the Folk is the horned boy who sleeps in an enchanted glass coffin in THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST, who's been there longer than anyone can remember. Generations of teens have indulged in romantic fantasies about him and held drunken parties on his coffin. Among them are 16-year-old Hazel, who, for reasons she doesn't really understand, finds herself making out with every guy in town -- except for Jack, the one she actually likes, who's a changeling. Jack is also the BFF of her brother, Ben, who's gay and a talented musician. They all find themselves faced with the unexpected, from cryptic notes that appear in Hazel's locker to people turning up missing or spellbound, and one mystery leads to another. Soon the teens are simultaneously trying to wake the mysterious boy and grapple with the dark forces plaguing their town, struggling to make sense of their lives.

Is it any good?

Genre fans will find this a fun read, though even they may get bogged down in the tortuously convoluted cosmology and wonder if the ending is enough of a payoff for all the turmoil leading up to it. Others may lose patience. Along the way, there are some interesting vignettes of small-town life -- and how even good people often behave badly when they're scared.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why teen romances involving supernatural characters are so popular. What's the appeal? How does The Darkest Part of the Forest compare with other stories you know?

  • Hazel and Ben have pretty much raised themselves because their parents are loving but utterly unreliable. Do you know any kids who've had to become the adults in their family because they can't count on their parents? How did it affect them?

  • Would you prefer to be "ordinary" or to have some spectacular talent? Why?

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