Written by Aaron Starmer
The Whisper follows up The Riverman, which was mysterious, masterfully constructed, a bit more gritty than most middle grade novels, and not quite a fantasy until the very last page; or perhaps the fantasy was that the main character thought it wasn’t a fantasy. In contrast, The Whisper moves much closer to a traditional action-packed middle grade fantasy/adventure, but it still has an enigmatic undertow.
After having taken his friend Fiona’s accounts of children disappearing from the magical land of Aquavania as a subtle cry for help from an abuse victim, Alistair has now actually entered the child-created realms he thought were unreal and found that they are indeed broken worlds of figments, abandoned by their original creators. Alistair engages in an almost-video game-styled quest exploring a multitude of extremely imaginative, childish, violent, and hilarious worlds, meeting bizarre characters and battling ciphers, ostensibly to find Fiona and save her and the other lost children. Instead, he keeps coming upon the handiwork of his former friend Charlie (a.k.a. The Riverman, a.k.a The Whisper) who now plays game master with all of these abandoned worlds. The narrative is interspersed with insightful flashbacks to Alistair’s past interactions with Charlie and Fiona in the “real” world, as well as origin stories about the first child creators of Aquavania.
Upon reflection it is increasingly unclear to me whether these books are truly for young readers or more for adults who were once young readers and enjoy a more meta take on children’s fantasy books. It is an undeniably action-packed, suspenseful page-turner. It is also teeming with complicated ideas and themes to be fished out (for starters the interplay of creation, imagination, authorship, fantasy, idealization, objectification, plagiarism, “remixing,” truth and error, the fallibility of memory, the limits of friendship, game design, etc., etc.), and so many unanswered questions. Try The Great Gatsby meets Inception meets Super Mario Brothers meets A Swiftly Tilting Planet. That’s basically where we are here, and I’m sure that “meets” list either made you groan in dismay or got you pretty excited. I absolutely love all of it, but I must qualify that by acknowledging that I am a 35 year old nerd with a B.A. in English. Putting aside my personal enthusiasm, I’m not sure whether I can recommend the books of the Riverman Trilogy for widespread school library purchase because I am afraid they will just sit on the shelf. I think you’d have to hand-sell this to the right readers, which means you probably first have to experience it for yourself, and I would recommend that.
Review by Joshua Whiting, Media Specialist, Granite Educational Technology Dept.
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Interest Level: Grades 6+
Author Website: http://aaronstarmer.com/
The Whisper (The Riverman Trilogy, #2)
Written by Aaron Starmer
Farrar Straus Giroux
Release Date: March 17, 2015