Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi: A Disturbingly Dark Middle Grade Read

November 21, 2017 Reviews 28 ★★★

Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi: A Disturbingly Dark Middle Grade ReadWhichwood by Tahereh Mafi
Series: Furthermore #2
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers on November 14th 2017
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pages: 368
Source: ALA
My content rating: Upper Middle Grade (Dark themes and some pretty vividly described gory details)
My rating:
3 Stars

A new adventure about a girl who is fated to wash the bodies of the dead in this companion to Furthermore.

Our story begins on a frosty night…

Laylee can barely remember the happier times before her beloved mother died. Before her father, driven by grief, lost his wits (and his way). Before she was left as the sole remaining mordeshoor in the village of Whichwood, destined to spend her days washing the bodies of the dead and preparing their souls for the afterlife. It’s become easy to forget and easier still to ignore the way her hands are stiffening and turning silver, just like her hair, and her own ever-increasing loneliness and fear.

But soon, a pair of familiar strangers appears, and Laylee’s world is turned upside down as she rediscovers color, magic, and the healing power of friendship.

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My Take copy3

My thirteen-year-old daughter and I both loved Furthermore—she read it first and immediately asked if and when there would be a sequel. So, I was delighted when I got a copy of Whichwood at ALA Annual earlier this year. I couldn’t wait to tell her! But something odd happened: I handed her the book and she took it eagerly—but the next day she reported that she wasn’t interested in reading it. As is typical with my kids, I could get no explanation from her, just “Eh, I flipped through it and I don’t think I’d like it.” Of course, I tried to remind her how much she loved the first book, but to my displeasure, she never did pick the book up again. I was mystified …

Until I read the book myself.

This book is not my daughter’s cup of tea, and I fear that will be the case for a lot of middle-grade readers. It is dark and creepy. Seriously dark and creepy—and some of the gory descriptions are really graphic. First off, the main character cleans corpses for a living, which we see right at the beginning of the book. She scrubs their rotting flesh and hangs them out to dry. Oh, and pulls out their fingernails (to use as coffin nails). She scrubs these corpses until her fingers bleed and … well, let’s just say, it is not a pleasant process. Later in the book, things get even more graphic. Some of the descriptions made even me feel a little queasy, honestly. View Spoiler » It was actually sort of disturbing to me to imagine middle graders reading the book, which cut down on my enjoyment immensely. Add in some pretty dark family themes View Spoiler » and I had to come to the realization that this just wasn’t a happy-go-lucky middle-grade read.

So, I’m finding it hard to rate this one. On the one hand, it had Furthermore‘s same whimsical style and utterly magical setting. And there were elements of the story that I liked—especially Benyamin and his affinity for bugs (though some of the bug scenes could possibly be considered disturbing, they were the friendliest, most helpful insects, so it was hard for me not to be won over by them in the end—not sure if a ten-year-old would see it the same way). And I thought that some of the messages in the book about self-worth were valuable for middle graders (though I sometimes felt they were a bit heavy-handed). But the whole time I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking that this was an intensely dark middle-grade read, and I was struck by the disappointing realization that my daughter was right not to read it (honestly, she would have hated it). Of course, there may be other middle-grade readers who would be delighted to read such a creepy story—I just couldn’t get past my own personal disappointment enough to truly enjoy the book.

However, I think that a lot of Mafi’s fans (who aren’t middle grade readers and aren’t reading the book through a middle grade lens) will LOVE it!

In the end, I liked this book, but I certainly didn’t love it the way I loved Furthermore. I ended up giving it 3/5 Stars.

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via ALA Annual in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

About the Author

Tahereh Mafi is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the SHATTER ME series. She was born in a small city somewhere in Connecticut and currently resides in Santa Monica, California with her husband, fellow author Ransom Riggs. She can usually be found over-caffeinated and stuck in a book. SHATTER ME is her first series, with television rights optioned by ABC Signature Studios; FURTHERMORE, her first middle grade novel, is on shelves now, and WHICHWOOD, its darker companion, will be on shelves November 14, 2017.

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28 Responses to “Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi: A Disturbingly Dark Middle Grade Read”

  1. Dina

    Aw man, I was hoping this one would be just as sweet as Furthermore. I’m glad I read your review, because I think that book would probably have made me a bit uneasy. I love Tahereh Mafi’s writing a lot. I heard a lot that the story still kind of centers around Alice, and like…I wanted to read about this person of color and get to see her world without Alice coming in at all. (I like Alice. But, I just wanted this book to rely mostly on the main character). Oh, I have a question for you and your little one: did you read Alex Bracken’s Prosper Redding book? Was that one okay? I haven’t read Bracken before (I have her previous novels, just not that middle grade one). Curious to hear your perspective.

  2. Lee @ Rally the Readers

    This does sound quite dark for a middle grade read! I haven’t read Furthermore yet but loved Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series, and I hope to get to Furthermore soon. I’ll definitely keep the difference in tone between Furthermore and Whichwood in mind.

    Lee @ Rally the Readers recently posted: Adventures at YALLFest 2017
  3. Jen

    Thank you SO much for your review! I’ve been making a list of books for my kiddos and cousins kiddos to read at different ages and I do not feel comfortable recommending this to them when they are MG. Their likes may change by the time they get to that age, but even as an adult I struggle with stuff like this in books. I always say I’m a huge baby, and I sooooo am lol. Fabulous review, Nicole!

  4. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight

    I think dark and creepy in and of itself is not bad for middle grade. I mean, there are popular books like Coraline out there (which I read in middle school). But the graphic descriptions of things does sound like it might be a bit much for a younger age group to handle. I probably would not have liked that when I was younger.

    • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

      Yeah, I was trying to think about what other books might have been similar. I know the Goosebumps books are popular, and those are definitely creepy. I just felt like some of the things in this book crossed over from creepy to disturbing (when I read them through the lens of imagining my daughter reading the book). I will say, my daughter is exceptionally sensitive to this sort of thing—but since she’s on the very upper age of MG readers, I feel like she’s a decent representation of at least a portion of them.

  5. Tanya @ Girl Plus Books

    Holy cow, this sounds seriously dark for a MG book. And it’s not that I underestimate MG readers and what they can handle, but this just sounds kind of… ew. I very rarely read MG (just not my preference) but I was mildly curious since it is Tahereh Mafi. I think I’ll give this one a pass, though.

  6. Geybie’s Book Blog

    I’ve never known that middle age reads have dark elements. I personally don’t like creepy books for children. I used to read many of them when I was a kid and they left negative effects on me, even until now. Some of my paranoia came from the books I read when I was little.

    Anyway, awesome review, Nicole. ❤️👍🏻

  7. danielle hammelef

    Wow, thanks for the heads up on this one. I enjoyed Furthermore, but won’t like this one at all based on the gory descriptions alone.

  8. Olivia Roach

    I’m thinking less that the second book is not going to be a problem because it is so dark and creepy, but more so that it seems geared for a different kind of audience than the first book, and that disjointedness won’t work because people who might want to read it won’t want to anymore. And those that should read it won’t have read book one… so it might get a bit tricky :/

  9. claire

    I haven’t read many of Tahereh Mafi’s books, but my younger sister is in middle school and enjoyed the first two books of the Shatter Me series. When Furthermore came out, she immediately wanted a copy from the library and was so excited to read about that creative world. She’s a mature reader, but I’ll give her a heads up about the graphic descriptions moving forward. Thank you for the review! 🙂

    claire @ clairefy

  10. Jenna @ Falling Letters

    I wasn’t sure about this first book in this series (I heard some things about the prose that made me think I wouldn’t like it) but the plot of this one intrigues me enough to add it to my TBR. I do love a dark story! 😀

  11. Jackie Thomas

    Looks like a great book, but maybe not for the younger group of the middle grade readers. I will still let my oldest read it, she will find in fascinating. They are both reading a historical mystery right now by James Hannibal, this one is awesome and good for all readers. It’s The Fourth Ruby and part of his series The Lost Property Office.

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