Series: Furthermore #2
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers on November 14th 2017
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
My content rating: Upper Middle Grade (Dark themes and some pretty vividly described gory details)
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.
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 »For instance, at one point ghosts skin people alive and the people walk around for like an hour skinless and in pain, bleeding and leaking pus while their children look on. This was described pretty darn vividly. « Hide 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 »(a parent who is put to death, a parent who is badly burned in a fire, parents who seem to love each other much more than they love their child …) « Hide 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.