Our story begins on a frosty night…
Laylee can barely remember the happier times before her beloved mother died. Before her father, driven by grief, lost his wits (and his way). Before she was left as the sole remaining mordeshoor in the village of Whichwood, destined to spend her days washing the bodies of the dead and preparing their souls for the afterlife. It’s become easy to forget and easier still to ignore the way her hands are stiffening and turning silver, just like her hair, and her own ever-increasing loneliness and fear.
But soon, a pair of familiar strangers appears, and Laylee’s world is turned upside down as she rediscovers color, magic, and the healing power of friendship.
“It is, after all, a simple and tragic thing that on occasion our unkindness to others is actually a desperate effort to be kind to ourselves.”
Whichwood is marketed as a companion to Furthermore, though I would argue that it is more of a sequel. While the narrator does take some time to explain the relevant parts of Alice and Oliver’s backstory, I know that I would have been slightly confused by the previously established relationships/rules/worldbuilding had I not recently finished the first book.
The newly introduced character, Laylee, is responsible for washing the dead and ensuring their passage to the otherworld. She was forced into maturity and responsibility at a young age and, as such, is initially closed off, isolated, and angry. With the help of Alice, Oliver, and some well-meaning ghosts, she grows into someone who understands her value and is surrounded by loved ones, and I truly enjoyed that journey.
As with Furthermore, the writing in Whichwood was utterly immersive. I take back whatever misgivings I had about Mafi’s writing; her metaphors are wonderfully crafted and paint the most beautiful imagery. The narrator’s habit of speaking directly to the reader was endearing, though repetitive, and I appreciated the sense of urgency that his foresight brought to the story.
It’s not a middle-grade title without the inclusion of life lessons and Whichwood delivered with messages on forgiveness, learning how to ask for help, being grateful for the things you have, and discovering your self-worth.
Overall, Whichwood was just as enchanting and imaginative as Furthermore, though much darker than expected for a middle-grade title. Should Mafi write more stories in this world, I will definitely give them a read.