Review by Joseph Pooley
Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, 2016
401 pages, paperback, $11.99 CAD, 978-1-101-99477-1
Ages 9-12, Grades 4-7
Middle-Grade, Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Alice was sitting on her bottom in the middle of the woods—her head dropped into one hand, her skirts bunched up to her knees—and was currently in the process of turning the entire forest an electrifying shade of blue. She’d changed the color of these woods several times now, but couldn’t decide which hue would do. And then, as she squinted up at the trees and allowed herself another brief, self-indulgent little cry, she thought, Oh, those leaves would look better in pink, wouldn’t they? and then turned the trunks pink, too.
Pure imagination, concentrated, distilled, and injected directly into your brain. That’s Furthermore.
Alice in Wonderland, but turned up to eleven. That’s Furthermore.
A bright and dazzling merry-go-round that spins you around at ludicrous speeds and leaves you laughing and stumbling, dizzy but elated. That’s Furthermore as well.
I could probably go on all day finding new ways to describe this book, and that in itself is a testament to how vivid and memorable it is. It’s a novel that grabs you by the hand and yanks you along on a weird and wild adventure, into realms where imagination is let loose and logic abandoned in favor of gleeful, colorful insanity. The sheer exuberance of it all is charming, its energy infectious, and even in its darker moments it manages to create a sense of childlike wonder.
The plot is fairly standard adventure-novel fare: young Alice Alexis Queensmeadow sets out with her friend Oliver to rescue her father from the strange and dangerous realm of Furthermore. Where most such stories would preface the journey with a relatively mundane setting, however, Furthermore is weird and wonderful from the very start. Alice’s home of Ferenwood is a mind-bending place where sun rains from the sky and magic is traded as currency, and the book takes its time exploring all the charms and quirks of this realm before she even begins her adventure. Of course, the land of Furthermore itself turns out to be even stranger, confronting Alice with such oddities as shouting books, fashion-conscious skies, and a ravenous horde of ladies in pantsuits. It’s a wildly fantastical tale from start to finish, and nowhere in its four-hundred-odd pages did I ever find myself bored in the slightest.
Based on the above, you might be thinking this is simply escapism. And it is, but it’s also much more than that. The author takes care to make the characters just as enchanting as the settings, crafting complex and dramatic arcs for both Alice and Oliver as they take on the myriad obstacles before them. Furthermore is full of dangers, yes, but the real threat often ends up coming from within, as Alice’s stubbornness and Oliver’s duplicity lead them both astray and force them to learn, grow, and make use of their wits to stay alive. Fantasy or not, this book highlights many of the issues faced by teens in today’s world: discrimination, the pressure to succeed, the weight of responsibility, the ever-more-complex rules one must follow as the freedom of childhood is left behind. Each one of these is reflected and caricatured in Furthermore’s fictional settings, allowing the narrative to speak on relevant topics without ever seeming to preach to its readers or deny them their fantasy.
Beautiful as it is, this book may not be for those who desire consistency, or who do not enjoy fantasy in general. Furthermore takes well over a hundred pages to begin its main plot, and much of the entertainment therein comes from the borderline nonsensical settings and scenery. For those willing to let their imaginations run wild and simply enjoy the ride, however, there are few experiences out there that can rival this book in sheer, unapologetic exuberance. Ten out of ten, easily.
Joseph Pooley is a vile creature from the depths of the ocean that somehow crawled its way up onto the shores of Vancouver. It now spends its days shambling aimlessly about the University of British Columbia in a perverse mockery of human existence.