Whichwood

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Whichwood Book Poster Image
Lush, dark fantasy has magical teens, ghosts, the undead.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The fussy, comically pretentious narrator often resembles a kid who's just discovered the thesaurus as she throws around lots of fancy, vocabulary-enriching words. Also, bits of Persian culture, from words in Farsi to a lot of delicious food. Bonus: several quotes from the poet Rumi.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about friendship and giving others what they need rather than what you think you should give them. Kindness matters and is often rewarded. Also: striking a balance between unselfishness and taking care of yourself so you can be there for others.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Alone and friendless, Laylee does her best to live up to her family obligations in caring for the dead, even though it's completely beyond her. Alice and Oliver from Furthermore and new friend Benyamin, as well as assorted insects, birds, ghosts, and corpses, do their best to be good, helpful friends to her. Together and separately they face many challenges, often falling short, but they keep trying.

Violence

There's enough gore and creepiness here to delight fans of author Tahereh Mafi's husband, Ransom Riggs. Laylee's life work of corpse-washing leads to a steady bombardment of darkness and gross-out, with decomposing body parts, ripped-out fingernails, and more. Then there's the character whose body is constantly producing bugs. Also ghosts and zombies on the rampage, causing new deaths, and the killing of a demented adult by an angry mob.

Sex

Some teen characters fall in love.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Whichwood is bestselling author Tahereh Mafi's continuing exploration of the magical world she introduced in Furthermore. There's gore and creepiness aplenty, including a murdered parent, 13-year-old main character Laylee caring for corpses in her family's business, the dead (often disintegrating) bodies, ghosts, revived corpses, and a boy with insects constantly streaming from his body. This may be a bit much for sensitive readers, but a real treat for the zombie crowd. And there are lots of positive messages, usually delivered by the witty, intruding narrator: Friendship and kindness are essential, especially when things don't go as planned. Mafi creates a lush atmosphere with references to Persian culture, from food to quotes from the poet Rumi. And there are a few flickers of future romance between teen characters.

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What's the story?

In the magical land of WHICHWOOD, 13-year-old Laylee is slowly dying from the burden of being the only person in what's supposed to be the family business of washing the town's corpses for the next step on their journey. This has been happening ever since her mother died and her father went crazy, and the townspeople not only don't help, they shun her and don't pay her, either. The rotting corpses are piling up, the ghosts are restless, and things are pretty hopeless -- when along come Alice and Oliver, last seen in Furthermore. They're on a quest, they're there to help, but, as the stage-hogging narrator would suggest, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. If at all.

Is it any good?

Tahereh Mafi fans will find a lot to love as she brings back her pushy narrator, her ornate descriptions, and a cast of magical teen characters facing overwhelming challenges. This time around, rotting corpses are not only thick on the ground, they're likely to turn up just about anywhere, which may not be the lush Persian fantasy some readers thought they were signing up for (though there's also some poetry from Rumi and some Farsi words). Signing off with "Until next time, dear reader," Whichwood leaves little doubt that this is only the beginning of these characters' adventures.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how corpses come to life in Whichwood. Why are stories about zombies so popular in books, movies, and TV shows?

  • Have you ever eaten Persian food? How did you like it? Did you like any particular dish the best?

  • Did you read Furthermore? How do you think this companion book compares?

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