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.
Mafi weaves beautiful prose throughout the story, showing the reader how Laylee has become so hard and closed off, why she focuses only on her work and cleaning the bodies of the dead, shepherding their souls to the Otherwhere. I related more to Laylee then I ever did to Alice, but that’s mainly because, as an adult, the pain that Laylee goes through with her mother haunting her, her father abandoning her, the town shunning her and preferring to pretend she didn’t exist, strikes a different chord with an adult then it does a child. Not to mention there is a scene where everything comes to a head where the reader gets to really see the extent of the ire the town has for its mordeshoors, and some terribly dark family themes come to light that are beyond heartbreaking. It’s a wonderful heartbreak for an adult, but for a middle grader? I’m not so sure… Plus, the language of this book is really sophisticated, which I loved and it fits with the descriptive prose Mafi is so good at, but I do think it would be beyond your average fifth grader. All this to say, that while I really enjoyed this story, you may want to consider the maturity and reading level of your middle grader before gifting them this particular book.
But for as much as I ached with Laylee, how I connected to her and hated the town of Whichwood for neglecting their mordeshoor, and using her age as the reason for why things go wrong rather than taking any responsibility themselves, I enjoyed Furthermore more than Whichwood. The first book just felt more intense to me, the stakes higher almost, even though Laylee’s life is on the line in this book. Whichwood was a bit slower, which did fit the vibe of this wintery world, but it did leave me thinking more fondly of Furthermore, but who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t read Furthermore?
Don’t mistake me though, this was a beautiful read with so many lessons in it that apply to adults just as much as they do to children. The friendships in this book are beautiful and Laylee was a grumpy delight, and I love all the secret details in the cover you only notice once you read the story. But this book is hard to rate specifically because of that middle grade lens. This is such a morbid story with some rather gruesome elements along with the heartbreak, that I really would struggle finding a middle grader that would enjoy this book instead of just being unnerved and depressed by it, even with the healing power of friendship present throughout. So I’m giving this 3.5 stars, and will round up for adults, down for kids. Still, I do highly recommend this series as a whole, and if there are any more books in the Furthermore series in the future, you can bet I’ll be getting them!
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