The Whispering Road
Joe and Annie escape from the cruel farmer who's been treating them as little more than slave labor, and they begin tramping their way to Manchester, where they hope to find their lost mother. They are not ordinary children --- Joe is a gifted storyteller while Annie has the ability to speak to the dead. When they join a traveling fair, Annie becomes the center of attention, leading to Joe feeling left out and alone. These feelings prompt him to flee the fair and join a gang of street kids, leaving Annie behind. Guilt and shame follow him through subsequent adventures on the streets of Manchester, but he never forgets Annie and soon begins a new quest to try to find her.
Set amid a poverty and inhumanity that is truly appalling, THE WHISPERING ROAD nonetheless contains a spirit of kindness and hope. While Joe, the first person narrator, can be thoughtless and immature, his love for his sister and determination to find her makes him a character the reader will care about. Most of the other characters in the book come across as three-dimensional as well, even those who appear only briefly.
THE WHISPERING ROAD takes elements from historical fiction and fantasy to offer a unique reading experience. The historical details are accurate and interesting, evoking Dickens and other 19th-century authors as Michael describes the living conditions of the poor in sometimes frightening detail. However, the narrative also contains fantasy elements that lift it into the realm of the unusual: Annie talks to the dead and the children meet up with some other-than-human characters. This combination works well in the story, integrated with a fast-paced plot and a lot of dangers.
The book may have too much real life for younger readers, including death, disease and abandonment. Still, it's leavened with enough hope that it should be a satisfactory read for both younger and older teens. The ending, in particular, will encourage readers to think, both about the fate of the characters and the ways in which the world has changed in the last century. Overall, THE WHISPERING ROAD is an interesting and worthwhile read.
Reviewed by Paula Jolin on May 19, 2005
The Whispering Road
- Publication Date: May 19, 2005
- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
- ISBN-10: 0399243577
- ISBN-13: 9780399243578