A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Belief in yourself is a realization you can never make too late. Friends give us courage while hiding from connections with others makes us more fearful. It takes courage every day to be a nonbinary kid or anyone in the LGBTQ community.
Positive Role Models
Nonbinary middle schooler River shows incredible growth in this story, beginning as a fearful kid who doesn't want to be noticed, not by the monsters they see that no one else does or by their classmates or teacher who don't understand them. When they do make a friend -- Avery -- they do everything they can to protect her, eventually showing great courage and belief in themself. They are willing to sacrifice themself for their friends. Also, they take really good care of their cat on their journey. Mr. Fluffy Pancakes is always well-fed and carried when they are running from danger.
The main character is nonbinary and their friend Avery tells them that she's pansexual and looking for a way to tell her parents. Avery is also half Mexican with skin described as golden brown. Two adult characters are lesbians. Author Justine Pucella Winans is a queer, nonbinary writer.
Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.
Violence & Scariness
Creepy descriptions of all kinds of monsters that attack, kidnap one character, cause scratches, and die oozing black blood. Weapons used against the monsters are a pocket knife, a tree branch, fire, and cat claws. A disfigured body is found still barely alive. A magical bridge shows the main character their biggest fears, including being eaten by a monster, not saving a friend from harm, and being deadnamed by their teacher. A spirit explains that he died from a bike accident at age 15 and worries about the brother he left behind and turning into nothing in the afterlife. River's cat is often in danger around the monsters.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
The nonbinary main character (age 12) has a crush on their pansexual middle school friend. Adult lesbians briefly kiss.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Products & Purchases
River and Avery love to play with their Nintendo Switch and both like Pokemon. River meets their dad at Starbucks. A brief mention of Target.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Otherwoods, by Justine Pucella Winans, is a fantasy about a nonbinary 12-year-old named River who sees scary monsters and travels to the monster realm with their cat to rescue a friend. The monsters' descriptions are quite frightening. One lives under River's bed, some die oozing black blood, and some are fought with a pocket knife, a tree branch, and cat claws. The scariest imagery is when River finds a disfigured, barely-alive body. The saddest story is that of a spirit friend River meets who died in a bike accident at age 15. River learns to believe in themself and finds remarkable courage during the story, which is a reminder that it not only takes courage to be survive a fantasy-monster realm, but to be out and nonbinary (or "different" in other ways) in the real world.
Is It Any Good?
Fans of unlikely heroes, fluffy cats, and monsters will dig into this story of a fearful middle schooler lured to another realm to save their friend. River, who really knows the value of friendship having suffered too long without it, suddenly needs to find bravery within themself for a rescue mission -- after some time curled up on their bed, hyperventilating, wishing it all away. Luckily, Charles, the monster under River's bed, convinces them to take the family cat, Mr. Fluffy Pancakes. First of all, fantastic name, and secondly, no one ever goes wrong with a cat sidekick. With the cat's support and a spirit named Xavier, River begins envisioning themself as brave and a hero.
Why the creepy forest is teeming with monsters out to get River and the magical lore is more simplified than it should be, but in The Otherwoods, the importance of someone like River overcoming these monsters is always understood. When they return to the real world, people like River often need more bravery than most kids, proven in this story by River's run-in with a difficult teacher. Justine Pucella Winans dedication makes the message even clearer: "To all the queer kids reading this, whether you are slaying monsters or hiding under covers, you are heroes and you are magic." This book will be magic to kids who really need to hear that.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.