In this wildly entertaining book, we follow a thirteen-year-old as she tries to deal with missing parents, stalkers, alien invasions, and a crush on the boy next door. (Technically, he lives across the street and one house over, but who really keeps track of these things?) A mixture of spunk, obstinacy, and a dangerously underdeveloped regard for personal safety, Hazel is every bit the believable "tween", equal parts endearing and infuriating for the adult reader, though young adolescents may see in her someone with whom they can identify.
First off, this plot was rather well thought out. Different "bad guys", "good guys", and the cars they drove were mixed in at various time points, introduced early on and then reintroduced with the gradual revelation of at least some of their motives and activities. While side stories can be distracting or unnecessary, they flesh out the story nicely here; they give the reader a better sense of individual characters' personalities and any significant circumstances. Suffice it to say that some of my suspicions proved more fruitful than others.
The story is told from the perspective of a reasonably precocious thirteen-year-old, a curious combination of slang and high school level vocabulary. Somehow, the tone of voice still sounds age-appropriate, and I had no trouble believing that Hazel really is a middle school student, albeit one with a diversified mental bank of words. On the whole, Defelis proves himself quite adept at creating characters that are at once entertaining, consistent, and easily accessible.
While middle grade fiction often requires a suspension of belief and the shutting off of adult thought patterns, I found myself skeptical more often than not about the things that Hazel was able to accomplish as a minor — renting an office space, for one, and avoiding visits from social services for another. The improbability of these and a few other things was a chunky pill to swallow, though it did eventually go down.
Hazel Wetherby & the Elixir of Love is a book that I can see "tweens" enjoying. The plot moves quickly enough to maintain interest, while the story itself is engrossing. Even this grown up stayed up well past her usual bedtime just to find out how it all ends. Suffice it to say that a sequel would be greatly appreciated.
(Review copy provided by the author)