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The Whispers

Review

The Whispers

Riley has just turned 11 in a small town in South Carolina. He’s a very precocious preteen. He loves learning a new word each day and practicing it dutifully, letting his world expand and become more familiar as he learns new ways to describe and understand it. He loves his dog, superheroes, dolls and police procedurals --- especially the handsome TV detective Chase Cooper, who can solve any crime in under an hour.

The detective assigned to Riley’s mother’s case isn’t anywhere near as effective. Riley’s mother has been gone for two months, and Frank still hasn’t brought her home. Riley knows this is mainly because Frank is a terrible detective, but he can’t help but be frightened that, ineffective as he is, Frank will discover what Riley did.

"THE WHISPERS has that sort of magic, heartstrings-tug appeal that will compel middle-grade readers, YA readers and adult readers alike..."

Riley believes his secret is why his mama’s gone. Sister Grimes told him as much. Riley didn’t want to believe it, because the way he feels about boys doesn’t feel wrong, not at all. But he knows his mama’s gone, and he can’t help but blame himself. His father and his brother don’t seem to want to disabuse him of this notion. So he keeps his secret, and he sets about doing whatever he can to bring his mother back. He ventures into the woods on a camping trip with his friends to ask the Whispers to bring her back. His mama told him about the Whispers --- magical creatures who know everything, living just beyond the treeline. The truth he discovers, however, will change everything.

THE WHISPERS is atmospheric: full of mystery, small-town trouble and building tension. At times it’s dark and almost disconcerting, but in the way the world can often be for children as they’re growing up. Ultimately, it’s about love, grief and making your own magic. Greg Howard crafts a gentle, moving story that’s at once a gay coming-of-age narrative and a meditation on loss.

There are some books that feel like they’re written with readers in mind. Now, don’t get me wrong --- THE WHISPERS has that sort of magic, heartstrings-tug appeal that will compel middle-grade readers, YA readers and adult readers alike --- but at the center of this story is Riley, and I’ve known so many Rileys. I’ve been him, a bit, not in a lot of ways but in some specific ways that really, really matter. And I love how this book is, first and foremost, for children like him. How Greg Howard knows the kind of story Rileys need, the kind of story that sees you, in all your vulnerabilities and shame, that listens and cradles you and reminds you: you are not alone. It’s okay to feel this way, to be this way. And that in and of itself is a kind of magic.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on January 30, 2019

The Whispers
by Greg Howard