Willa of the Wood

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Willa of the Wood Book Poster Image
Action-packed, violent, absorbing, heartfelt fantasy.

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Kids say

age 8+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Brief facts about the Smoky Mountains in the acknowledgments. Readers will get a sense of the geography, plants, trees, and animals of the area as well as the impact of white settlers and especially the railroad on the area.

Positive Messages

Protect and hold on to what's in your heart and to what makes you who you are. Without love there's no family, without family there's no future. Family's not just the immediate relatives you live with, but also your clan, the community you live in. We need to help each other and hold each other up because together we're stronger. It's OK if some people do things differently; there isn't only one way to live in this world. Lots of environmental messages about respecting, protecting, nurturing not only the environment but our spiritual and physical connections to it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Willa's a great role model for empathy, courage, perseverance, integrity. She helps care for her grandmother, does whatever she can to help other people, wildlife, the natural world. Nathaniel is kind, gentle, open to learning from Willa about being connected to nature. Villains crave power or feel entitled to use the world around them any way they want.


Lots of fantasy violence, mostly from magic. Blood's mentioned but no gory descriptions. Pain described. Fighting with spears, using tool handles like axe butts for beating, kicking, pulling hair, choking, getting slammed around. Main characters are frequently in peril, and several settings are dark, scary. One dark, tunnel-filled area is a prison full of starving children, has an abyss that children who don't obey are thrown into. Important characters die. A large, destructive fire destroys homes; lots of people are lost fleeing from it -- one burned body briefly described without gore. Violent language describing humanity's use of wood: Cutting down trees is murder, their limbs are hacked, paper is referred to as "tree skin."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A villain loves chewing tobacco, and a bad guy spits tobacco juice once.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Willa of the Wood is a fast-paced, action/adventure fantasy by the author of the popular Serafina series, Robert Beatty. There's lots of fantasy and real-world violence with blood and pain mentioned but no gory descriptions; main characters frequently in peril; dark, scary settings including children starving in a warren-like prison where there's a bottomless pit children get thrown into; and a massive fire from which not everyone escapes. Important characters die, including a beloved pet. Sensitive kids may be upset by the "murder" of trees by loggers and homesteaders; overall there are strong themes about protecting and connecting with nature. Dystopian themes are explored through the iron-fisted ruler who demands unquestioning obedience and doles out harsh punishment while stamping out the old ways. Willa's a great role model for girls, and Nathaniel is a kind and open-minded father figure. Chewing tobacco's mentioned a few times, always in a negative context.

User Reviews

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  • Kids say

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Teen, 13 years old Written bySerafina and Imogen June 8, 2020

Not as good as Serafina.

It's good, just not the same "Verge of death/I'm on the edge of my seat" as Serafina. At one part Willa helps Serafina, but it doesn't... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old August 11, 2018

Extremely violent, edge-of-your-seat new book by Robert Beatty

My grandma first recommended Willa Of The Wood to me because she had read an excerpt on Barnes and Noble. It is a great book but extremely violent and much more... Continue reading

What's the story?

WILLA OF THE WOOD is a member of the Faeran clan, an ancient people who've lived in the Great Smoky Mountains for longer than anyone can count. But as the world around them changes and their population dwindles, the Faeran are losing their connection to the old ways. Willa is one of the very few left with a magical, ancient connection to the woods, the mountains, and the wildlife. And now the new, godlike leader of the clan not only rules with an iron fist, but also is deliberately separating the Faeran from everything that connected them to the past. Out on a night raid, Willa has a close encounter with a human named Nathaniel, which sets in motion a chain of events that will change the Faeran, and the mountains, forever.

Is it any good?

This exciting, sometimes violent fantasy strikes a terrific balance between page-turning action and thoughtful, heartfelt emotion that will appeal to a broad audience. Willa of the Woods offers something for lovers of nature, animals, magical fantasy, dystopia, action, and adventure. Characters, especially Willa, are well developed, admirable, and relatable. Readers of the Serafina books will enjoy it, too. It's a lot less spooky, although evil, darkness, and danger have to be confronted. It's equally steeped in, and evocative of, the Great Smoky Mountains, and fosters a sense of adventure, wonder, awe, and even reverence for the natural world.

The pacing flags a bit in the middle, and some of the environmental messages seem a bit heavy-handed. It's best for big kids and up who are ready for frights, chills, direct but non-gory descriptions of violence, and even some heartbreak. The ending is satisfying while leaving room for more of Willa's adventures.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Willa of the Wood. Is it too much? Were there times you were really scared or upset? What did you do to feel better?

  • What do you like about Willa? What are her strengths and weaknesses?

  • What are some ways you can feel more connected to nature? Why is it so important to preserve and protect it?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and nature

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