Alice Alexis Queensmeadow lives in the rather dull (at least by her standards) town of Ferenwood. She doesn’t quite fit in, partly because she is nearly colorless, and partly because of her quirky, temperamental personality.
Mafi has an unusual writing style – you are likely to either love or hate it, and it’s difficult to describe, so I’d highly suggest reading an excerpt from this book to see if her method will be a good fit for you. Much like her unique setting and eccentric protagonist, she writes with a blend of humor, sarcasm, drama, and pragmatic melancholy. Even on the chapters that proceed the main adventure and are mostly worldbuilding, really, everything moves at a breakneck pace.
In the hands of another writer, any one of the many places and magics that Mafi describes could be its own story, but much like Alice in Wonderland, this Alice is focused on meeting her goals. Her beloved Father is missing, former classmate Oliver is a thorn in her side, and her mother is cold and dismissive.
There were some flaws. The polarizing writing style could be the biggest drawback for some readers. Chapter lengths are inconsistent, which is too bad as I think this would otherwise make a good read-aloud book.
The biggest oddity for me were the descriptions of Alice’s younger brothers. Their age is given as about 10, but the way they are characterized felt much younger, more like toddlers or early elementary school kids. I could not wrap my head around that one and it threw me out of the story.
Spoilers follow, scroll to the asterisk * to avoid. As a mom myself I was disturbed by the mother in this story and those surrounding the family who didn’t seem to notice or care that they were desperately poor and Alice was being neglected. This could be a huge trigger for children who have experienced trauma.
It did seem a bit cliche that Alice then turned out to be the most magical thing ever. But the whole plot line with her mother bothered me. I spent considerable time trying to figure out if Alice had basically become her mother’s dealer, since ferenberries are forbidden and their effects aren’t fully explained.
Other points also flirted with confusion, such as how Mother threatened to turn Alice into a boy and she then wonders if her brothers were gender-swapped as a punishment. Mafi is constantly walking this line between fantasy and believability, tweaking different emotions and running the reader through events until you are breathless and a bit confused.
I have quite a few trigger warnings for this book as Alice experiences limb loss, jumps off a cliff, is flattened, and encounters cannibals. That does make the book sound terrible, but it’s all done rather light-heartedly (and with magic, nearly everything is reversible).
Alice is homeschooled, poorly and not by her own, or her mother’s will. This comes up several times as her lack of the most basic knowledge about her community and culture repeatedly leads to embarrassing situations and conversations. Despite her lack of cultural capital, friends, and currency, Alice has a great deal of self-confidence – probably thanks to her missing Father, who adored her.
Honestly, at first I couldn’t see why since Alice was rather irritating, but her persistence and thoughtful nature quickly grew on me. She’s prickly but also a strong role model about consent, loving yourself, and following your dreams.
None of my children have read this yet, and having left the school library, I can’t hand it off to a student for feedback either, so I’m not sure how the target audience will react to some of these sensitive points. Since race and other characteristics are fluid, I probably should explain that I read this for review because Mafi is Iranian-American. Certainly her perspective on fantasy is unique.
Other than the above issues though, reading Furthermore was an immersive romp and I’m looking forward to reading the next book set in this world. Most will end this roller coaster ride of a book wondering where the ground is but wanting to do it all over again. There was even a part where I was greatly suspecting a plot twist, but Mafi had just left a red herring and took the story in a direction I didn’t expect at all! It’s been a long time since a MG book surprised me in that way.