The Whatnot

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Whatnot Book Poster Image
Half-faery siblings face cosmic battle in exciting sequel.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Like much steampunk fiction, The Whatnot offers an alternative view of Victorian England and its technology. Young history buffs and tinkerers may be inspired to explore further.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of love for home and family, trying to do the right thing, and doing good even if you haven't always done so in the past.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hettie's unswerving faith that Bartholomew will come to her rescue, no matter what, is both inspiring and well founded. Bartholomew never gives up and shows great courage and resourcefulness. His new friend Pikey comes from a hard life on the streets and starts out lying to avoid trouble but changes his ways. Various beings sometimes show the kids kindness in surprising ways.

Violence

Eyes stolen by the faeries are a key element in the story. There's much killing of humans and faeries in battles, power struggles, and treachery. One of the creepiest elements of the previous book in the series (The Peculiar), parasitical faeries who seize control of their victims' dead bodies, returns here.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Hettie is starving and eats faery food, which dooms her to remain captive in the faery world. She's forced to drink a magic potion to perform a task for one of the villains.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Whatnot is even better than its predecessor, Stefan Bachman's debut, The Peculiar, which did most of the stage-setting and world-building that allow the second book to get on with the story. Bachman's writing engages the reader and keeps the pages turning. The enduring bond between siblings Bartholomew and Hettie is emotionally compelling, and there's a strong message of courage, friendship, and perseverance. As with the first book, there are plenty of creepy and violent elements. One character has lost his eye to a faery, and another faery has a whole collection of stolen eyeballs; a villain massacres his enemies; and horrific engines of war come into play, including the cutely menacing device on the cover, designed to dispense poison gas on the battlefield.

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What's the story?

In The Peculiar, the first book in this series based in steampunk England, changeling (half-human, half-faery) siblings Bartholomew and Hettie Kettle tried to stay alive and avoid evil forces bent on exploiting their abilities. As THE WHATNOT opens, some years have passed. Hettie is being held captive in the faery world, kept as a servant/pet by an aristocratic faery who calls her her \"whatnot,\" while Bartholomew, in England, has never given up looking for his sister. Into their lives stumbles orphan Pikey Thomas, whose eye has been stolen by a faery and who now catches glimpses of Hettie in the faery world. Meanwhile, the humans have driven the faeries from the human world, and an all-out cosmic battle is brewing; trickery, treachery, and magic will play a big role.

Is it any good?

The Whatnot takes advantage of the world-building and scene-setting that sometimes bogged things down in The Peculiar and gets on with the story. The conventions and trappings of the book's universe are unabashedly creepy and may be too much for sensitive readers, but the characters, especially Bartholomew, Hettie, and Pikey, are appealing and intriguing as they face deadly challenges. Young author Stefan Bachmann deftly combines humor, heart, and more than a little horror in an engaging, memorable tale.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the appeal of stories wherein our world and another, magical one come together. Why do you think people are fascinated with fairies and fairyland? How does this version compare with others you may have encountered?

  • Do you think Bartholomew and Hettie did the right thing in refusing to give up their efforts to reunite? Or should they have tried to make the best of the situation and make new lives for themselves?

  • In this series, faeries use magic and humans use technology to get what they want and defeat their enemies. If you had to use one or the other in your own quest, which would you choose? Why?

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For kids who love fantasy and magic

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