The Story: [From GoodReads]:
There are only three things that matter to twelve-year-old Alice Alexis Queensmeadow: Mother, who wouldn’t miss her; magic and color, which seem to elude her; and Father, who always loved her. The day Father disappears from Ferenwood he takes nothing but a ruler with him. But it’s been almost three years since then, and Alice is determined to find him. She loves her father even more than she loves adventure, and she’s about to embark on one to find the other. But bringing Father home is no small matter. In order to find him she’ll have to travel through the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore, where down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong. It will take all of Alice’s wits (and every limb she’s got) to find Father and return home to Ferenwood in one piece. On her quest to find Father, Alice must first find herself—and hold fast to the magic of love in the face of loss.
My Take: First off, how delightfully awesome is this cover? A mere 2D image does it no justice as this deserves to be seen in person. It’s so bright, colorful, and busy yet it fits the story’s tone and never feels too much. The wonderful cover aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel from beginning to end and it rightfully earned a spot in my top favorite reads of 2016.
Plot-wise, this novel introduces us to Alice, who is immediately likeable, and who is now one of my favorite middle grade good gals: she’s smart but not a know-it-all, she’s gentle but knows when to conjure up a fighting spirit, she is meek but refuses to be bullied or belittled, and she acts young without becoming absurdly immature. Essentially, she’s everything I could hope for in a young protagonist. Yet poor young Alice has a few odds not in her favor. For starters, in her color-filled world she is decidedly devoid of color; hence she’s cast as an obvious outsider. Secondly, and probably more importantly, her father has gone missing and no one has any inkling as to where he might be. So Alice makes it her life’s mission to locate him and bring him home.
As you might have guessed, Furthermore employs a traditional journey/quest narrative but it’s by no means cliched or tired. A large part of this is thanks to Alice, who commands the page and is easy to root for. As stated, one thing I loved about Alice was that she still acted her age, meaning she sometimes made hasty choices, didn’t think her decisions all the way through, and kept petty grudges, yet she’s not so juvenile that she will leave adult readers rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, or wanting to bang their heads into the nearest load-bearing wall. She is a perfect balance of youthful wonder tempered with grace and wisdom that seem beyond her years but not so much that Alice is a 30-year-old encased in a pre-teen’s brain or body. For that, I highly applaud Mafi for giving readers a well-rounded lead character who is certainly a strong female lead but isn’t so strong that she becomes prideful and shoulders her quest’s burden all by herself.
Regarding the story itself, it’s a wonderful array of colorful twists and turns enveloped in whimsy, wonder, and magic but it never becomes too much. Normally, I shy away from books that try too hard to create a whimsical tone, but Furthermore stays on point, meaning it doesn’t feel like it’s being injected with whimsy just because nor does it utilize purple prose because the author didn’t know how to properly describe elements and environments. At first, I feared this would be like the regretfully DNF’d The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which, for me, tried way too hard to be fanciful while also paying a little too obvious homage to similar works (namely Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Neverending Story). But Furthermore never felt overdone nor openly obvious with its influences. Granted, readers who dislike borderline purple prose might not be too fond of the actual writing of this novel; but I took no issue with it nor did I think it was done in error. Part of what creates the whimsical worlds of Furthermore is its writing, so having flowery descriptions and language actually added to the story’s world rather than detracted from it.
Another element in this novel’s favor for me was its surprising depth regarding the view of the self and family ties. Regarding the former, as you can probably surmise, Alice struggles at times with her inability to fit in with her peers. They are colorful, she is not. They seem to possess impressive talents, Alice is a bit impulsive and dances to the beat of her own internal drum, which is, more times than not, misunderstood by those around her. As tempting as it would have been to turn preachy, the novel, instead, shows us how Alice overcomes others’ image of her by simply being herself. She eventually learns she is gifted in very unique ways and embraces these abilities, finally seeing the value she can contribute to her world.
A second theme the novel explores is family dynamics, especially between children and parents. While Alice’s mother is never abusive, she’s less than kind and inattentive towards Alice at times. Alice’s father is absent, so his lack of presence is keenly felt. I appreciated how Mafi depicted a dysfunctional family that, despite their differences, at least tried to strive for harmony. Alice, in particular, knows a huge missing piece in her family is her father, and the sadness she feels is surprisingly realistic. Thus, the novel places a strong importance on the family bond, emphasizing harmony over discord. As a whole, it was pleasant to see a book intended for younger readers that wasn’t a sermon disguised as a story; instead, it presents its messages about self-worth and family in ways that are hard to miss but that don’t bludgeon readers over the head.
Collectively, Furthermore had all of the elements to make it a paint-splattered literary train wreck yet it avoids becoming anything close to such a disaster thanks to its deft execution, imaginative yet relatable characters, and carefully crafted messages that are designed to be personalized so this novel will affect each reader differently.
Language – None. (Any swear words characters use are simply their own inventions and bear no resemblance to real-life profanities).
Violence -Violence is essentially non-existent in terms of characters being physically harmed; however, there are some perilous portions of Alice’s journey where she and another character are stuck in dangerous situations or attacked by creatures, but nothing ever turns bloody or gory. (Also, while Alice doesn’t have the best relationship with her mother, her mother isn’t abusive and doesn’t abjectly mistreat her.)
Sexual Content – None. The subtle romance that develops is more of an innocent puppy love variety and never becomes inappropriate or even suggestive.
Overall, Furthermore is a treat to read, from its plucky and instantly lovable protagonist, to its whimsical take on the classic journey narrative, to its deliciously colorful writing. I hesitated for a while before reading this as I feared it would become too Seussian for me; however, my concerns were eventually alleviated. (Likewise, I had read sections of Mafi’s Shatter Me and couldn’t connect with the characters, so I feared this would be more of the same yet it was, thankfully, strikingly different.) I imagine this novel would appeal to a wide range of reading tastes and ages, so I highly recommend it for anyone searching for a fun, quirky read that possesses a healthy balance of magic and wonder with relatable emotion and depth.