Goodreads: The Thickety: The Whispering Trees
Series: Thickety #2
Illustrations by Andrea Offermann
Forced to flee from their village, Kara and Taff now wander the Thickety, domain of the Forest Demon Sordyr. Only by using her magic can Kara defeat the dangers that beset them and hope to take her brother to the other side. But every time she wields her powers, Kara feels herself pulled down a dark and wicked path. Can she save her brother without losing herself?
The second book in the Thickety series continues to push the boundaries of what many consider to be middle-grade fiction, taking an in-depth look at the nature of evil and temptation. The stories told here are chilling, not because they deal with witchcraft, but because they reveal the lengths to which a person might go to possess power, to belong, or simply to try to do the right thing. Reflective and nuanced, The Whispering Trees demonstrates just how thought-provoking a book “written for children” can be.
Part of the charm of the first book, for me at least, was seeing Kara’s interactions with and isolation from her community. Though the other villagers probably thought themselves good people, they ostracized children simply because of the rumored deeds of their mother. Kara’s response to this behavior was deeply interesting, as her newly discovered witchcraft allowed her the chance to choose revenge or forgiveness.
In this book, Kara and her younger brother Taff flee their village into the Thickety, the domain of the forest demon Sordyr. In some respects the book follows in the steps of many another journey book, showing the two encountering and overcoming various dangers (a little bit like Quest for Camelot). The really interesting parts, the ones that make the story unique, are the ones that show Kara using her powers. She has the ability to control animals if she wanted–but should she? And every time she uses her powers, Kara must sacrifice one of the memories that make her who she is. Even when Kara wants to do right–to protect her brother, to save another–she must decide if the cost of magic is worth it. By doing good with witchcraft, Kara is walking down a winding road of temptation. The magic, the ability to impose her will on others, is always calling her. By giving up her memories of the harm magic can do, Kara opens herself up more and more to finally saying “yes” to darkness.
This view of witchcraft certainly seems novel to me in literature, though I admit I do not often read books where it is featured. Still, from what I can tell, the usual path these days is to show witchcraft in a positive light or at least to focus on a protagonist who is using a somewhat neutral tool to choose either good or evil. The idea that magic is always a dominion of one’s self over another and almost inevitably leads to the loss of the person wielding it is really interesting and allows for a complicated look at morality. So many questions are raised. What if a good person possesses magic? Why can’t she use it for good? How does she resist temptation? What if she needs to use it to fight the people who are using it for evil? What, in the end, makes a person “good” or “bad”? And how can a person find redemption?
These are weighty questions, but J. A. White handles them with the thought and nuance they deserve. He never speaks down to his audience or tries to pretend that life is always black-and-white with the idea that children need to be protected. Some children may not be ready for a book this dark, it is true, but others have seen the darkness in their own lives. This book acknowledges the darkness while providing just enough light to give readers hope. It is a marvelous and rare book, a gem on the middle-grade shelf.