Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi (review)
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Reviewed by
Kate Quealy-Gainer, Assistant Editor
Mafi, Tahereh Whichwood. Dutton, 2017 [368p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-101-99479-5 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-101-99481-8 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 5-8

As a mordeshoor, thirteen-year-old Laylee washes and prepares the dead for the afterlife. The job is killing her in both body and spirit, since the magic she must wield steals her strength and disgusts the residents of Whichwood, who bring her their dead without payment or compassion. Alice and Oliver have been tasked by the elders of Ferenwood, a neighboring kingdom, to help Laylee, but why or how, neither Alice or Oliver know. Laylee’s not particularly keen on other people’s charity and she’s pretty much resigned to dying alone, but Alice and Oliver’s persistent kindness has her reconsidering her fate. Now the friends must find a way to heal Laylee before her death unleashes the spirits of the unwashed dead to wreak havoc in Whichwood and beyond. This is a gorgeously told tale, thick with magic both beautiful and deadly, set in a world where colors can save a life, whales serve as transportation, and hordes of insects and walking corpses are the good guys, bringing as much hope as they do terror. An unseen narrator directly addresses the reader with a bit of dark humor, relaying a story that manages to feel familiar in its folkloric tone but utterly unpredictable in its plot. Characterization is nuanced, with Alice as the ever-successful savior who’s shocked by Laylee’s initial rejections of her good intentions, and Laylee as a picture of despair and rage who is nonetheless confidently stoic in the face of death. Fans of the book’s companion piece, Furthermore, will flock to this, but Laylee’s story easily stands alone while offering an invitation to further explore Mafi’s fascinating world.

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