Riley has a strong belief in the Whispers: fairies that will grant you your heart’s desire if you offer a tribute. He needs to believe in them because his mama has been missing for months now and if he doesn’t believe…what then?
Greg Howard’s middle grade debut novel was a well written, heart breaking example of how sometimes the belief we hold on to is all we have in the face of something far more devastating, but that processing, growing up, whatever you want to call it, is also possible.
Published: 15 January 2019
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Category: Middle Grade/LGBT+/Fantasy
A middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.
Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.
Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.
Rating: 4 Stars
CW: bullying, anti-gay terminology/homophobia, child abuse, animal death, talk about segregation behavior
There was an expectation I had about The Whispers going into reading it and while I might have held onto them for awhile, when Riley was telling us about his Mama singing to him, the games they would play, and the stories she would share with him, it wasn’t long before a sense of foreboding took over.
While Riley has a sense of wonder and a belief in the fantastical, there’s also
This was a good, solid read that I kept wanting to pick up, even when I had to set it aside for other tasks. Even when I thought I knew where the story was going (that sense of foreboding I mentioned? yeah, it only gets stronger as you go), I had to know for sure. I had to know how Riley was going to figure things out: how he was going to handle living with his dad, who seemed to hate him since Mama vanished; his classmates, who teased him for liking stuff he “shouldn’t” like; his crush on his nextdoor neighbor, Dylan. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface for Riley and while he might seem single minded, there’s also a lot of confusion boiling up inside that creates tension for him and whoever’s reading about him.
Riley’s life in a South Carolina town is complex. He’s eleven years old and figuring things out, such as how he feels about those around him, particularly who he wants to kiss. This is complicated by the sermons he hears at church and what the Brothers and Sisters from church say when they think he can’t hear. From an adult perspective, it was even more heartbreaking to realize what they meant and I wanted to shake these people for being so cruel to a child.
There’s also an interesting method of storytelling wherein Riley sees things from a certain point of view. Some readers might be able to guess at particular plot points in advance and thereby guess as the story progresses, but if not, at the end you can look back and see how Riley’s perspective and that of those around him differ and makes it almost like there were two stories going on simultaneously.
The emotional impact of The Whispers cannot be understated. It’s quite good and I think there will be quite an audience for it. I’m not sure if the writing style will be for everyone in the middle grade audience because as much as I liked it, I’m not 100% that younger readers will stick with it through the early stages. I’d certainly encourage them too, though, because it’s well worth it. Provide tissues, though, for the finals scenes and readers of all ages.
This is an aesthetic I put together to celebrate The Whispers and its review on The Hermit Librarian. It’s the first official aesthetic I’ve ever done. The images highlight key moments or feelings in the book that stood out to me. If you’ve read Greg’s book, do you remember which ones I mean? If not, see if you can pick them out when you go on Riley’s adventure with him to find the Whispers.
About the Author
Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.
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January 25 – Andy Winder – Author Guest Post
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.
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