I was a big fan of Mafi’s narrative style in Furthermore, and I am so pleased that Whichwood follows a similar style, with a narrator retelling the story of these children almost like an omniscient reporter. It’s such a fun, and whimsical voice that I love seeing in her middle grade books. And while you don’t necessarily HAVE to read Furthermore before Whichwood, I would highly recommend you do as many of the characters from Furthermore make an appearance in Whichwood, making this book, often times, feel like a continuation of Alice’s story, just as much as Laylee’s. That being said, Laylee’s story is dark and tragic. When your main character is a thirteen year old girl, alone, washing the dead in all manner of decay, you have to expect this to be a darker story than Furthermore, even if that book also had its moments of fear and sadness. But Laylee’s story is… different, and that’s why I don’t think it’s truly a middle grade book.
I admit I don’t read many retellings of classic fairy-tales. They just don’t tend to interest me that much. But when I saw this steampunk retelling of Cinderella, I was all over that! I love me some steampunk feminism! And let’s be clear, this book is nothing like Cinder, and I do think this book suffered some from coming out close to the same time as that super popular series. These two retellings have nothing in common except their source material. Our MC in this book, Nicolette, is an inventor, she makes amazing things in the workshop her mother left behind. It’s her one source of solace in a home where her step family have diminished her to a life of servitude, bereft of love. I love the idea that Nicolette isn’t looking for anyone to rescue her. She makes plans to get out and live a life of her choosing free of her step family and follows through on it. It has a very strong message for young women on not needing a man to complete you, and the power of female friendships. The book has a delicious bitter sweetness to it for the most part that I liked, but overall the book felt incomplete with too many loose ends that were so interesting! And when those plot points didn’t actually get explored, it made the rest of the book feel boring and other subplots feel tacked on with little regard to the story as a whole.
“Furthermore” feels like a mesh between The Secret Garden and an Alice in Wonderland retelling, something only compounded by the main character being named Alice, as well. In the land of Ferenwood, everyone is blessed with an abundance of bright colors, from their eyes, to their hair, to their skin, and the more color they have, the more magic they can command. Alice is almost completely white, except for a bit of brown around her eyes. She has always hated this; hated that she wasn’t as colorful as everyone else. And when her father vanishes (three years ago from the story's start) she hates her lack of color and her talents even more. With a mother who ignores her and seems to not like her, and with a town that rejects the talent she offers them, Alice runs away with her “friend” Oliver to bring the only person who ever understood her and loved her just as she was back: Father.
You know, I don’t think enough people really gave “Flunked” a chance, or they forget that MG books are meant for, you know, middle graders so things being “obvious” to an adult are, well, a no brainer. This book was meant for younger children, and as such, it’s actually a really cute, fun, and charming read! “Flunked” follows Gillian Cobbler, you know, the family that lives in a shoe that has so many children they don’t know what to do? Yeah, that family. Gillian’s family is struggling, so more often than not her younger siblings are going hungry. As the oldest, Gilly takes up thieving to help feed her family. I really liked that distinction, because yes, stealing is wrong, but her intentions are never evil. Still, it’s no surprise that when she gets caught for the 3rd time, she’s sent to the Fairy Tale Reform School where ex-villains—such as Cinderella’s evil stepmother, Snow White’s wicked queen, and Red Riding Hood’s big bad wolf—have all changed their ways and now strive to keep troubled youth from bringing more evil into Enchantasia. Or have they? As soon as Gilly arrives, she’s suspicious of all her teachers, something feels off, and Gilly is determined to find out what, and get out of Reform School and back to feeding her family as soon as possible.
This is a surprisingly cute and interesting take on a dystopian fantasy that is almost perfect for MG readers. I say almost because with the characters ages, I believe the author wanted this to be a YA fantasy, but with how the main character, Franklin, views the world and just the sheer whimsy of the mages, warlocks, oceanus, were-panthers, and how the limitations of the magic system and classes aren’t well defined, and are kind of left up to the gods, I think this makes for a much better middle grade book, so that’s how I’m rating it. “Zarmina and the Book of Oceans” is the first in the series, so it spends a good portion of the book introducing the reader to this new world, and why humans live on the star-side—aka, in the frozen dark—of this planet, and why the evil warlock, Javan, has banished them to such a harsh place.
Click the book images to see them on Amazon!