By: McKenna Graham, Arts & Life Editor
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genre: Middle grade, fantasy
Rating: Five stars
The further into adulthood we get, the further away from that childlike innocence and feeling of adoration for our surroundings we get: things like jobs, money, politics and what to eat for dinner so easily spoil our abilities to enjoy pleasures as we used to.
When’s the last time you found yourself with entertainment that made you feel as much wonder as the Magic Tree House books?
Tahereh Mafi combats sentiments of frustration and dissatisfaction with our world in her newest book since her award-winning “Shatter Me” series by taking a shortcut: in typical Mafi style, she turns everything we take for granted on its head and sucks you into a world totally unlike our own.
“Furthermore” centers on a girl named Alice — a definite nod to “Alice in Wonderland” — who is struggling to reconcile herself and her environment. In a world where color means magic, and magic is the way of society and of fitting in, Alice is entirely colorless. Everyone around her has rich brown skin; every tree around her has the most vibrant emerald leaves; every flower and house and clothing garment is gorgeously colorful, and Alice is painfully pale, with painfully pale blonde hair and painfully light eyes.
An odd turn of events causes Alice to embark on a mission with someone she would never call a friend to find someone she always hoped she’d see again. A boy who bullied her in school, Oliver, needs Alice’s help to find Alice’s father, who disappeared one day and hasn’t been seen in years but whose job position was vital for their community. Oliver is placed in a position to go after Alice’s father, and Alice is placed in a position where she has nothing else to do and is driven by the hope that he will return, so they set off together.
Alice has been left behind to take care of her struggling mother and younger siblings, but now she has to leave the home and the town she’s always known and set off into the land of Furthermore, where origami foxes enjoy being petted and a town full of sleepers become deadly upon waking.
The laws of the land are strange, and we learn them alongside Alice as she traverses from town to town in search of her father, who went missing years ago when he attempted to create a map of the wild land. Armed with only a ruler, Alice goes down a metaphorical rabbit hole in an attempt to restore order and love to her family, and of course, shenanigans ensue.
Alice is quick, clever and appropriately immature – she’s written to be young enough that it’s believable that she’s twelve, but she’s mature enough that it’s enjoyable to be in her head and follow the story from her perspective. There were no real moments when I was exasperated by her naivete or irritated by her total trust of pretty much everyone; somehow, that was refreshing. It came from a place not of stupidity but of innocence, and for someone like me who reads enough YA to have tropes coming out my ears, Alice was exquisitely young and curious. There’s no attempt to get through politics, or romantic relationships or anything even remotely tired and overused; the conventions that Mafi fell into with her first series are nowhere to be seen
The story centers around a theme of self-love and acceptance, with Alice’s more obvious struggles with acceptance, Oliver’s more nuanced difficulties and the still more subtle struggles of Alice’s mother.
As a college-aged reader, I found myself rather enjoying the writing style; Mafi’s past works have ceaselessly impressed me with her technical prowess, but she transitions to middle-grade fantasy well.
The characters are beautifully written, the plot is evenly-paced enough for older readers but action-packed enough for younger readers and the worldbuilding for the story was brilliantly vivid and immersive. Alice, Oliver and the world they must travel through are so endearing and so enchanting that I truly felt as if I was being taken back to a time when every book I picked up was unique and original and exquisitely crafted.
Despite the utter wholesomeness of the story — Alice and Oliver’s relationship develops appropriately, and the love she feels for her father is what carries it through to the end — I didn’t find myself at any point rolling my eyes or counting the pages I had left. This wasn’t a story I struggled to get through, and not because it was written for a younger audience; this was extremely well done and I’d recommend it to people of any age. In fact, my mom is borrowing my copy right now.
“Furthermore” is like the Harry Potter series — not because of the magic (the systems are totally different), not because of the writing (Tahereh Mafi just has such a way with words that’s so rare and so gorgeous), and not because of the relationships between characters (I’ll get a lot of hate for this, but in this one book I fell in love with the characters more than I did characters that lasted all seven of the “Harry Potter” books); “Furthermore” is like the Harry Potter series simply because it’s wrong to label it a book for children. There is so much wisdom and so much enchantment and so much beauty in this story that I haven’t found anywhere else, and trust me, I read a lot this summer.
So if you’re looking for an absolutely amazing book to read that isn’t mentally taxing and will totally lift your spirits and make you appreciate human beings (even fictional ones) so much more, this is absolutely the book for you. It’s a well-written, well-crafted and well-executed story about love, friendship, empowerment and the beauty that loving yourself can bring to others.