This YA novel was one of my Jolabokaflod books and I found it quite charming, even though I definitely felt like I was coming into the middle of a larger story. That’s because I was. Whichwood is a companion novel to Furthermore, which I haven’t read (but now want to). The bookseller at the Book Cellar (ha!) told my sister when she bought it that you didn’t need to read them in order, and I think she was right. This novel’s main character, Laylee, is not in the first book and when Laylee encounters Alice and Oliver, the protagonists from Furthermore, the chatty and opinionated narrator is happy to fill you in on their backstory.
Thirteen-year-old Laylee Layla Fenjoon is a mordeshoor, which means she is bound by blood to wash the dead and help them make the transition from this world to the next. Though it is a family business, Laylee is now doing it all on her own. After her mother died, Laylee’s father was so distraught that he left home in search of Death and now Laylee is forced to do this difficult job without any help, any vacation, or really any appreciation from her community of Whichwood. However, if Laylee doesn’t do her job, the ghosts of the dead will be trapped on earth and they will eventually turn on the living and try to take their skins. As the story opens, the village of Whichwood is about to celebrate Yalda, the last night of fall, but Laylee is not in a cheerful mood because the arrival of winter only brings more death and more work for her.
Her bad mood is interrupted by the arrival of Alice and Oliver, who break into Laylee’s castle home, and announce they are from Ferenwood, another magical village, and that they are there to help her. Alice, who possesses a very specific magical gift, has been given a quest to complete and Laylee is part of that quest. I’ll leave what happens next for you to enjoy when you read this ,but half the fun of it is the unnamed narrator, who is much a character as anybody else.
To give you a taste, here’s a bit from the opening chapter:
Whichwood was a distinctly magical village, and Yalda-the town’s most important holiday—was a very densely magical evening. Yalda was the last night of fall and the longest night of the year; it was a time of gift-giving and tea-drinking and endless feasting—and it was a great deal more than that, too. We’re a bit pressed for minutes at the moment (something strange is soon to happen and I can’t be distracted when it does), so we’ll discuss the finer details at a later time. For now, know this. Every new snowfall arrived with a foot of fresh excitement, and with only two days left till winter, the people of Whichwood could scarcely contain their joy.
With a single notable exception.
Tahereh Mafi writes in such a gorgeous way that I found myself re-reading passages and though I started off wishing I had read Furthermore first, by the end, I didn’t care. I wanted to sit down by the fire, drink some tea with the narrator, and hear another story.