I put off reading this book (I read the companion, Whichwood, first) because I had heard that the audio book was great and I wanted to listen to it with my kids. Read by Bronson Pinchot, Cousin Balki from Perfect Strangers, the audio book takes 8 hours to cover the 401 page book, and it is delightful. While Mafi’s circular repetitive world building, takes some slowing down to get used to, listening to it made the story move along when a physical book may have been abandoned. An AR 5.5 the book is clean, but not gripping until about two-thirds of the way through. As the main character grows in maturity, the story gets better and better, a mix between Alice and Wonderland and A Wrinkle in Time. The book will require some determination to get through, but the journey will be worth it in the end.
Alice Alexis Queensmeadow is missing her father who left 3 years ago with only a ruler in his pocket, and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Her life is a bit messy as she is being homeschooled by a mother who she doesn’t really think likes her and thus spends most of her days outside eating flowers and trying to avoid wearing clothes. Alice lives in a world of magic and color, but Alice has no color, at least not externally, her magic, which she must learn to accept is to add and manipulate color to the world, to anything and everything, except herself. As a 12-year-old she must surrender her magic and be given a task to prove her place in her world. She thinks her best gift is dance and her surrender goes terribly wrong. With no where to go after her humiliating performance, she decides to take Oliver Newbanks up on his offer to go with him to help him on his task, he is 13 years old, and find her father. Their unlikely assistance to one another is fraught with mistrust and bickering as they journey to a world Alice didn’t even know existed, Furthermore.
In the land of Furthermore, magic is used very differently then in Ferenwood, and on their journey where up is down and paper foxes rip limbs off, and Time is actually a person. The two companions will have to learn to be honest with one another as well as themselves in order to survive, let alone to find Alice’s dad. With the threat of death and being eaten constantly plaguing them, they journey from village to village where the rules are different and the laws of logic ever changing, with the hopes of completing the task and reuniting a family.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The details in the story are luscious and beautiful, and once you fall into it, you really do want to stay and look around a while. There were times when listening to it, that the kids would get bored, yet now that we have finished it, all have mentioned that maybe we should get the book so they can reread parts again. Mafi’s writing style is very thick that you don’t feel like you are making any progress, yet when you start to digest what you know, you realize in fact you have.
At the beginning Alice is very annoying, and she stays that way for a while. Her whiney nature isn’t sympathy evoking, but rather gets you irritated with Oliver as well, that he doesn’t just tell her stuff. Both combined need to be bopped on the head. Seriously, a bit of communication would really have taken out a lot of the unnecessary frustration the readers feel for the characters, and let the personal stuff they were hesitant to share with each other have more value. It is a middle grades book, the empathy of understanding Alice and Oliver’s own fears and reticent in opening themselves up is a great lesson to explore through fictional characters, but because the kids have such poor communication skills about anything, their own fears lose potency. The pacing of the story, is just as random as the villages they pass through as well, while they always seem in a rush, some of the places they stop they could chat at, rather than while they are running to save their lives, or while they are walking they could talk to give description through their eyes, to build up the characters, not just the world they are in.
Like in Whichwood, the narrator talks to the reader which is fun, and provides information that otherwise couldn’t be shared. The characters names in each of the villages are clever and while the story could be mapped pretty straightforward, girl journeys to a new world to find her father with the help of a boy, who will become her friend, the twists and details, make the book memorable and worth the strain to get to the climax.
I know this review sounds back and forth, and I think a lot of it stems from what you expect from the story before you begin. I had tried to read the book and got a little discouraged, but I had a good feeling the audio book wouldn’t disappoint, so I plugged through and found myself enjoying and loving the story. If you are expecting an action packed fully fleshed out rational story, you will be let down. If you can just enjoy the whimsy on the surface and let the little tidbits of the larger story come at different times to complete the larger puzzle, you will love Alice and Oliver’s magical world and the fantastic journey that they go on.
The book is clean. A bit disturbing is that the people of Furthermore want to eat Alice and Oliver to absorb their magic. It isn’t vulger, but it is silly that Alice doesn’t like wearing clothes. While one could be nervous that Alice and Oliver develop a romantic relationship, rest assured they do not, they become friends and are 13 and 12 years old, so phew.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I can see me doing this as a book club selection, although I’d probably lean more to Whichwood, in an Islamic School environment because of the names. I think young Either one though, I’m positive Muslim kids will enjoy seeing a hijab wearing Muslimah pictured on the back flap and seeing that she can write a mainstream engaging fantasy novel about whatever she likes.
Author’s website: http://www.taherehbooks.com/book/furthermore/