Thursday, July 6, 2017

Whichwood, by Tahereh Mafi

For my first ARC, I read this one -- Whichwood, by Tahereh Mafi. It's actually a "young readers" book, sort of the stage before YA, and I have to say I'm pretty surprised by that. It's also a sequel to the book Furthermore, which I now find I must locate to read.

To our story: Laylee is 13, and stricken with a magical disease because her mother (the most beautiful woman in their land) died and her father went a little (ok, a lot) bonkers and the family business has fallen squarely on her youthful shoulders. The family business of corpse washing/burial, that is. Laylee and her family are mordeshoors, people whose magic allows them to scrub both body and souls of the dead in preparation of their moving on to the afterlife. The first section of the book is a grim accounting of her daily life, which sounds rather....mucky, if you want the truth. There's lots of rather sticky description of mouldering corpses and mud and the snowy weather, and it's all written so clearly and well you can practically smell it. This is the primary reason I am surprised by the age group -- there are no punches pulled when describing rotting bodies, and while I know youngin's are more resilient than your standard grade adult (it's all that baggage we carry; it makes us fragile), but still. And it's helpful that the author uses little comments as her section titles warning the reader that the tale is about to get rough, as bugs are a major part of the tale (one of the later primary characters is a spider) and there are some...ugh. I don't want to spoiler anything, but the way the bugs get around is...nasty. To me. Maybe not to a 10 year old, I have no clue.

Just...there are bugs. It's gross. Some kids will love that, but if you've got a sensitive one (or are sensitive yourself), it may disturb you. Just a bit.

Anyway, when I say, "and it all goes downhill from the beginning", please understand I mean "for our heroine", not the book. The writing is lively and vibrant, and for a book written and aimed at 10-14 year olds, it's pretty adult in terms of themes and messages. There were times when I, even as an adult who knows how these things go, had no idea how anyone could possibly get out of the situation that arises with health and sanity intact. That's...rather pleasant, to be honest. I'm so very rarely surprised by a book anymore, and almost never by one that is aimed at younger readers.

It comes out November 14th through Dutton Children's Books, a division of Penguin. The version I have read is the uncorrected galley, and the cover art may very well change between here and there, but I'm really optimistic that it will remain every bit as entertaining in finished form as it is in it's 'just learned to walk' format.

I recommend this book -- and all her books, really. Mafi has an engaging voice and personable style that gives the impression that you've just sat down with her and she's telling you a story. It's quite pleasant for the reader, even as she tortures her characters with unique, character building traumas. And love.

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