The Whispers

Putnam. Jan. 2019. 256p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780525517498.
Gr 5-8–Before disappearing four months ago, every night, 11-year-old Riley’s mom told him the story of the Whispers, magical creatures who live in the nearby woods. In exchange for a tribute, the Whispers will grant your heart’s desire, and there is nothing Riley’s heart wants more than for his mother to be found. The investigation is at a standstill, and his family seems to have given up. His father rarely speaks, and Riley feels he’s somehow to blame. His guilt is compounded by his anxiety over what he calls his “condition.” He thinks about kissing boys and has a major crush on his neighbor Dylan. Riley wavers between self-assurance and shame over his attractions. His internal struggle and the search for his mother come to a head when he rushes into the woods to bargain with the Whispers. The final chapters leave the whimsy behind as Riley is revealed to be an unreliable narrator. His unresolved feelings about his identity are sensitively handled at the touching conclusion; however, it is troubling he continually refers to being gay as a “condition,” which implies an illness or deficiency.
VERDICT Despite a few missteps, this realistic middle grade novel’s exploration of the stories people tell to protect themselves, and the courage it takes to see through them, is ultimately uplifting.

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