Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Pages: 395 (ARC)
Source: Gifted from Friend
There are only three things that matter to twelve-year-old Alice Alexis Queensmeadow: Mother, who wouldn’t miss her; magic and color, which seem to elude her; and Father, who always loved her. The day Father disappears from Ferenwood he takes nothing but a ruler with him. But it’s been almost three years since then, and Alice is determined to find him. She loves her father even more than she loves adventure, and she’s about to embark on one to find the other.
But bringing Father home is no small matter. In order to find him she’ll have to travel through the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore, where down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong. Her only companion is a boy named Oliver whose own magical ability is based in lies and deceit—and with a liar by her side in land where nothing is as it seems, it will take all of Alice's wits (and every limb she's got) to find Father and return home to Ferenwood in one piece. On her quest to find Father Alice must first find herself—and hold fast to the magic of love in the face of loss.
When I first heard that this book was coming into existence, I absolutely freaked out. I will read anything Mafi writes, and the synopsis of this middle grade sung to my heart. I was so ready for it. When Danielle gifted me a copy from BEA, I sat down and read it immediately.
I am so happy this book did not disappoint. The reason this book was so perfect was because Mafi's writing is absolutely beautiful. She showcases her skills as an author by taking it to a whole new level. Her use of metaphor and amazing descriptions bring this world bursting in color and our colorless main character, Alice, to life in a way I never thought possible. Think of a written version of the movie In Living Color with major Alice in Wonderland inspiration regarding the twisty-turny adventures. Yes, it's just that awesomely executed! Once this book is picked up, you won't be able to put it down.
The entire concept of this world is amazing, too. A world where magic is part of life and every inhabitant has some kind of magical ability--persuasion, climbing air, singing to your soul...you name it and someone in Ferenwood can probably do it. Each of these children at age twelve surrenders their power and is granted a task that only they can complete with their special skillset to help better the town. How fascinating! It's like taking Harry Potter and turning the world upside down and right side out and then maybe throwing in some steroids. You know, Alice in Wonderland but with even more magical creatures. It's just every fantasy readers dream, really. It's what makes it so easy to fall in love with this book because it allows Mafi's whimsical writing style to come to life.
And then there's Alice. I couldn't imagine being the only blank canvas in a world bursting with color. Throw in some poverty, a mother who she does not think loves her, an absentee father who she desperately misses, and a town full of people she can't relate to, and she doesn't have it easy. It's why it is so surprising when the insufferable and manipulative Oliver comes into her life, inviting her on an adventure. Both characters (aged twelve and thirteen) suffer from John Green-esque syndrome where they speak well beyond their years, but that's where their similarities end. I loved Alice for her strength (something Juliette didn't always have in Mafi's other series), and I respected Oliver for his cunning and his eventual friendship with Alice, but I found him to be insufferable more than anything else. He was a jerk, and it's not hard to understand why Alice disliked him so much. And, yes, Alice made some ridiculously stupid decisions that bothered me as a result of her distaste of him, but her distaste was totally deserved. And, sure, this is a middle grade and kids have to learn, which they both do a lot of, but stupid and silly decisions are stupid and silly decisions and I don't want to chock it up to this being a middle grade book. It's more like Mafi needed something to happen to get from Point A to Point B, so she made it happen.
In the same vain, Mafi's ending seemed rush and a little too convenient for comfort. Oliver and Alice's journey through Furthermore was fascinating, dangerous, and full of adventure, and then the ending snuck up on us in less than ten pages and everything was done and wrapped up with a little bow tied on top. I was thoroughly confused and under-satisfied because it happened so suddenly and unexpectedly.
Though I am happy with the tale, I find myself wanting more because of how it ended. There is a lot of potential for a sequel, especially because of how Alice's Surrendering went down (read the book to understand!), and I hope that Mafi will endeavor to write book two because it will give this amazing world the ending it deserves. As a stand-alone, while enjoyable, this book didn't provide an ending worthy of the other 95% of the book. And, in that regard, I find myself disappointed.
All in all, I think every fantasy reader needs to give this a chance. With mature characters despite their young ages, young adult readers will have no problem reading this middle grade as it has the ability to appeal to readers of all age groups. Mafi weaves a world bursting with color, wild with magic, rife with adventure, and full of love--a world I'd happily get lost in again and again.