Author Carol Anne Shaw introduced West Coast Hannah and her supernatural affinities in Hannah and the Spindle Whorl (Ronsdale Press, 2010) and followed up with Hannah and the Salish Sea (Ronsdale Press, 2013). In both stories, Hannah, a teen who lives in Cowichan Bay, had been touched by First Nations spirits of the past, giving her a greater appreciation for their history and for the environment. Though Hannah and the Wild Woods is the third book in the series, I am pleased to say that it can be read without reading Books 1 and 2, capably standing alone with a new set of characters and story line, while keeping Hannah tethered in spirit to her roots and passions.
It’s spring break and fifteen-year-old Hannah is heading to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to work with the Coast-is-Clear program, clearing beach debris, much washed up from the Japanese tsunami of 2011. Surprisingly, also going is Sabrina Webber, Hannah’s rich-girl nemesis, who has to do some eco-community service to avoid juvie for shoplifting.
Things at home are a little tenuous with Hannah’s dad considering moving them from their houseboat at Cowichan Bay to a home in Victoria with his girlfriend, Annie. Moreover, Hannah’s boyfriend Max is in Mexico vacationing with his family and seemingly at arm’s length. But Hannah does have Jack, her raven buddy, who follows her to the Tofino area where she will be staying at the lodge called the Artful Elephant with other Coast-is-Clear volunteers. Led by the program facilitator, Peter, and his girlfriend Jade, Hannah and Sabrina are joined by an older teen, Kimiko, who reveals that she lived through the tsunami and has lost her father. But there is something unsettling about Kimiko, from the way she moves and disappears sometimes to her relentless questioning of Hannah, and it’s evident that the lodge’s resident dog, Norman, thinks things are off with Kimiko too, kicking up a fuss whenever she’s around.
When a glass ball with curious markings on a gold chain that Jack finds for Hannah goes missing, Hannah begins to suspect Kimiko. But, Hannah has no idea how weird things are going to get, especially when she spies a fox with multiple tails and the glass ball and chain hanging from one of them. There’s also a lone wolf that appears to be watching the lodge and the volunteers. With Jack’s help, Hannah tries to learn Kimiko’s secret and that of the fox and wolf, and make things right for the whole lot of them, while still working to clean up the environment. She’s one busy girl.
It’s evident that Carol Anne Shaw has great affection for the West Coast, its people and environment, and she takes the reader into that milieu easily.
I push my hair under my hat and face the sea, leaning into the wind at a forty-five degree angle. It's as though the wind up here is on steroids! I hang for a couple of moments, feeling weightless before allowing myself to be blown back upright. I feel a little bit like the shrubs and western hemlock out on the point, all of them growing in the same direction, shaped by years of being hammered by the relentless winds. (pg. 38-39)Everything Hannah feels and does is embedded in that caring and concern and she is a totally believable character. She wants to be good and do good but is still human with her distress, frustration, suspicion, worry and anger. But by tying in elements of Japanese folklore, specifically the kitsune and Okami, Carol Anne Shaw makes Hannah and the Wild Woods into a bigger story of finding oneself and one’s family and accepting mistakes as learning steps. Kimiko has lots of learning to do (even if she is almost 900 years old!) but, at 15, Hannah has lots of life wisdom to share. Though there are multiple harrowing circumstances and even a devastating loss, Hannah and the Wild Woods will deliver the reader to a calm that can only appear after the storm. Look forward to the ending.