Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genre: Middle Grade, YA, Fantasy
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
(Penguin Random House)
Date published: November 14, 2017
A physical copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
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.
This book did not turn out how I expected … but that is in no way a bad thing! I believe that there are at least 3 reasons why I expected Whichwood to be different from what it actually is. 1) I had never read any of Tahereh Mafi’s other books before. 2) I have only read a sneak peek of Furthermore, but not the whole thing. And 3) I have never encountered any Persian fairtytales, of any sort.
Again, none of these reasons that I’ve listed, or the fact that the book turned out to be different from what I had imaged, are negative things. In fact, I would like to say that Whichwood did not only turn out being different from what I had anticipated, but it also exceeded my expectations! I have never met Mafi in person (sadly), but like to think that her voice really radiated through the narrator. Actually, while I normally don’t enjoy or encourage this in other books, I like to think that Mafi herself narrated Whichwood. The voice was very welcoming, friendly, and kept me intrigued. I think that the narrative style works very well for middle-grade readers, and I will also say that I found it enjoyable as an adult as well. Mafi wrote this book in a very empathetic manner, by which I mean that she was very sensitive to the characters’ feelings, but also those of the reader. I felt as if I was eased into some of the more depressing scenes, and that the narrator really took care not to feed me too much of the “bad news” at once.
Please don’t assume that by my mentioning depressing scenes, that this book is depressing. Yes, here were some sadder moments … and while at times they felt a little overwhelming, I want to point out that they very much go hand in hand with the type of story that is being told in Whichwood. This book is described as a dark Persian fairytale, and I can definitely attest to it being dark, while having no idea who Persian or not-Persian it is (so I will not touch that aspect of things). While dark fairytales are not for everyone, they hold a special place in my heart, because I grew up on them. And also, because I like a little darkness here and there (hence, as some of you may have noticed, I will add a horror book into my reading schedule here and there).
Whichwood very much resembled the kind of fairytales that my grandparents would tell me when I spent my summers in Romania as a child. The protagonists are children to pre-teens, and their outlooks are very bleak. In many cases, they also have to grow up too soon, because the adults in the story have let them down. Many parts of Whichwood were also very unrealistic, but I find that to be completely acceptable in this type of story. Suspension of belief is part of the experience.
The pacing was good, overall, and while some parts were a little slow for me (especially in the first third of the book), things definitely picked up after that. So, if that happens to you, definitely keep reading, because things get very good! The story and Mafi’s writing are vivid and imaginative — a pure joy to consume! I don’t normally read middle grade fiction, but I’m so glad that I read Whichwood, because it was like gourmet for my mind and soul.
Tahereh Mafi is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the SHATTER ME series and her latest novel, FURTHERMORE. She can usually be found over-caffeinated and stuck in a book–or online just about anywhere at @TaherehMafi. You can visit her website at www.taherehbooks.com.
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