“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.
Mafi’s writing in “Furthermore” is incredibly charming, taking on the role of a classic narrator retelling the story of Alice and Oliver as if the characters had told the story to her themselves. It’s sweet and fun and full of personality; watching these two young characters race through amazing, but also richly dark, lands is a treat. Mafi is able to not just write cute characters and a brightly unique world, but she is also able to impart some wonderful lessons in her story for young readers: the importance of acceptance and loving yourself, of embracing the things that make you different and seeing it as something that makes you special, rather than an outcast. She is also able to write some incredibly deep and painful scenes as Alice and Oliver experience loss and despair while they struggle through the land of Furthermore hunting for Alice’s father. It gets pretty dark at times—extreme bodily harm, threats of cannibalism, hints of drug use, plus just the sadness that comes with a child thinking she’s unwanted—which makes me think this isn’t actually a book suitable for true MG readers.
Alice is 12, but she doesn’t really act her age. That, coupled with the rather adult themes that I mentioned and just the maturity with which Mafi writes—even if it is a fun narrative voice—make me waffle on this book as an actual MG read, which it is marketed as. I’m sure with the whimsy and silliness that is inherently part of Ferenwood that this book felt better placed in the MG category rather than YA, but I have mixed feelings about this… The recommended age for this book is between 9-12, or grades 4-7, and I frankly don’t think that’s true. When I read MG, it’s specifically for the purpose of finding new books for my niece and nephews (shhh, let me have this lie) who range from 2-11. Obviously, the youngest doesn’t really count right now because he can’t read yet, but I still read this wondering how children will enjoy the story. Will they enjoy “Furthermore”? Parts, absolutely. But I’m an adult and there were parts that just broke my heart, and not in a way where a kid may gloss over it but an adult will see it for what it is. There were also parts that had me literally going “well, that escalated quickly!” While I’m not a fan of the idea that kids’ books can only be light and fluffy, I do think darker themes need to be presented in a way that won’t freak out nine 9 year olds. Also, while the writing is beautiful, after a while it did feel as if the story was just lagging, purposely making the journey longer for Alice and Oliver with no real purpose. This is a long book for a kid, and I’m not entirely convinced it needed to be.
Overall, “Furthermore” is a colorful—in every sense of the word—read. Most of its messages are great and Mafi had me feeling all the things: joy, whimsy, loss, heartbreak. I loved the narrative voice; it was refreshing and just a lot of fun. I will be giving this book to my niece and nephew to read, but with a caution that parts may be scary and potentially to read it when they are ready to sit down with something that will take them a bit of time to digest. Ultimately, that’s why I have a hard time giving this book 5 stars; I don’t think it’s all that appropriate for the young readers it’s marketed to. I liked it and will definitely be reading more of Mafi’s work, but this is isn’t quite the 5 star read I was hoping for… But it is a very high 4 stars! I’d say if you have an older and more mature MG reader, that this book would be perfect for them, and probably the adults in your life, too.
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