Book Review: “The Beast of Hushing Wood” by Gabrielle Wang (#AWW2017 @GabrielleWang)


The Beast of Hushing Wood (Puffin Books/Penguin Random House Australia, 2017) is the second book by Gabrielle Wang that I have read. Although this beautifully illustrated story (for children aged 8-13) is set in a fictional town called Hushing Wood, the writing style is amazingly similar to that in Wang’s Little Paradise (for children aged 13+, reviewed here), which is set in Melbourne and based on real historical events. Both titles are honest, gentle and reflective, with a mixed sense of nostalgia and awe.

Where Wang’s writing lacks earth-shattering conflicts and confrontations, fierce emotional struggles and (melo)dramatic thrilling actions, it is compensated by heedful observations and subtle comments on contemporary social issues in reality, which are then cleverly weaved into a story of fantasy to encourage tolerance as well as understanding and mutual respect. For example, the isolation of Hushing Wood is for a reason, and I wonder whether our young readers – many of whom are quite mature and knowledgeable these days – are willing to accept this as a result of magic. Similarly, the cultural background of the mysterious boy and his grandfather is perhaps deliberately kept vague, but there is no reason why the residents of Hushing Wood have to specifically speak the English language.

With that said, I like the fact that in Wang’s writing, there is no apparent contrast between white and black, right and wrong, or good and evil. Everything has at least one cause yet multiple consequences, and young readers are invited to ponder upon the numerous possibilities after the story ends. The unknown is always the most desirable, and perhaps a writer’s job is not to map out the future. An expert in Chinese painting, Wang surely knows the artistic and philosophical values of keeping part of her picture blank.

While reading The Beast of Hushing Wood, I was also drawn to Wang’s acknowledgement at the end of the book on how journeys to various locations in Australia and overseas provided inspiration for her to enhance this story. It seems an echo to that wise saying, “Seek, and ye shall find.” Indeed, opportunities don’t always knock on where the door is. Just be ready to tear down the wall.

More details about Gabrielle Wang’s The Best of Hushing Wood can be found here.


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