By Tahereh Mafi
Hardcover, 401 pages
2016, Dutton Children’s Books
Alice of Ferenwood was born without color. In a world where color is riotous and magic is currency, twelve-year-old Alice often feels like she doesn’t belong. When her father goes missing, Alice loses what might have been her only friend. But when a childhood bully comes to Alice for help and lures her in with the promise of being able to save her father, Alice leaves behind all she knows for a land even more strange and magical than her home.
When Mum sent me a picture of this book and asked if I wanted it, I immediately said yes. I knew it was middle grade and strange and the cover was beautiful so I figured I’d love it. It seemed like it would be a take on Alice in Wonderland, especially considering the main character is named Alice. While this book was just as whimsical as Alice, the silly tone and oddball world building lost me so completely that I couldn’t enjoy the story.
I don’t have much to say about this book because it’s hard to describe and most of the time I had no idea what was happening. If you’ve seen Disney’s animated Alice (a movie I still enjoy to this day), Furthermore is very similar in that up is down and left is right and right is wrong and people eat flowers. Alice’s hair and skin are devoid of almost all color and the world she lives in has something called “rainlight” and townspeople use magic that has somehow been compressed into objects that look like buttons as currency. Alice loves to eat flowers and her mother eats hard to find berries to cure her depression and everyone is a vegetarian. I know it sounds like I’m just naming random things from the book, but that’s sort of what reading it felt like.
The land is magic and somehow gives magic to its people, who are born with different gifts. Alice believes her gift is dancing to the music of the land. She’s been practicing and hopes to win the Surrender, the annual ceremony where all children who turn twelve present their gifts and are then given different tasks that will benefit their society in some way. Alice hopes to win the Surrender and earn a great adventure so she can finally leave town and hopefully find her missing father.
I did actually enjoy the idea of the Surrender and it was one of the few parts of the story that made sense. Alice doesn’t win however, but her old rival Oliver presents her with a chance to leave Ferenwood for Furthermore, a strange land that Alice thought was a myth, and search for her father.
Futhermore is even more wild and nonsensical than Ferenwood and their magic flows more freely. It’s a dangerous place as almost all inhabitants are cannibals – they like to eat visitors with magic in order to gain their magic. I have no idea if they actually physically murder and devour people or just do something to gain their magic that also kills them, but if they are truly cannibals that lends a much darker tone to the story that would be out of place with its general silliness.
Furthermore seemed odd for the sake of being odd. Maybe it was because I was somewhat tuned out and thoroughly confused, but I didn’t understand the point of much of what took place in this alternate world. Alice and Oliver were constantly making blunders that endangered their lives because Alice wasn’t open-minded enough to accept the strangeness of Furthermore and Oliver couldn’t be bothered to explain the rules of the world to Alice because the plot needed him to remain aloof.
My favorite part in the whole book was a deliciously described filet mignon, that, of course, the kids don’t eat because they’re vegetarians and Alice doesn’t even know what filet is. Maybe most twelve-year-olds don’t, but I really wanted to eat that dinner.
The takeaway from this book is to embrace your differences and be proud of your skills and keep an open mind in order to better understand others. While that’s a nice message and an important one for young readers, it was really hammered home at the end and it frustrated me that it was the only clear point in the whole book. Maybe if I’d been younger when I read it I might have enjoyed it more. Perhaps, like Alice was at the start of the story, I was too close-minded to enjoy the strangeness of this book. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t an enjoyable read for me.
Stay tuned for a Judging post though – it is a well-designed book and I’m crazy about the cover art.