Review: The Whisper, by Emma Clayton (2012)

The Whisper, by Emma ClaytonThe pitch: This sequel to The Roar picks up right where the first book leaves off. The “chosen” children have discovered the Secret and know they need to take over the Northern Government before their parents also discover the Secret and start a war.

Wow, I did that all without real spoilers! Go me. However, HERE BE SPOILERS FOR THE ROAR:

The review: Basically the entire book consists of Mika and Ellie and the rest of the Chosen masterminding their takeover of the Northern Government and negotiations with the rich dudes south of the Wall. All of which you know they’re going to manage somehow. As such, there are no new secrets or surprising plot twists, and it is therefore way less thrilling than The Roar. (It’s also 3/5ths the length, but still.) I predict that my young readers who loved the first book will be satisfied but less enthusiastic.

What I really want to talk about is the tone of the whole thing. I did a whole lesson with my 6th graders about how to discuss a book’s tone, and we brainstormed tone adjectives. This did not appear on our list, but the tone of The Whisper was “1970s hippie.” (Which is not an adjective. Don’t tell my kids.)

The least interesting part of The Roar for me was the discovery that the children are mutants with telepathic powers. The Roar (of emotion) builds in their heads and they can use that power for good or eeeevil. In this book, they learn that they also share the Whisper — a sort of Force-like telepathic connection. They can see the golden light of all living things, and can use the Whisper to share that light even with non-mutant adults. This is how they convince their parents that even though they’re angry at having their world taken away from them, they shouldn’t start a war with the South because it will destroy the beautiful nature.

The overt message of the book is that we are all animals, and unless we remember that and live simple lives connected with each other and with nature, we will lose our humanity. I absolutely agree with that.

Unfortunately, the underlying message is that we can’t actually solve any of our problems until we evolve magical mutant powers. The entire book, the mutant kids are all, “trust us, we have it under control.” Kobi, Mika’s best friend from the first book, is separated from the other kids, hiding with his dad in the impoverished Shadows. They’re taken in by a group of terrorists who want to topple the Golden Towers where the Northern rich folks live. Kobi, tapped into the Whisper, shares the “trust us” message with his dad and the others. They don’t listen, of course, but in the end the kids do everything they said they would.

These children are selfless and good to the point of being almost holy. Nobody has an attack of pettiness about who’s in charge, nobody gets scared and lashes out. Connected by the Whisper, they are a unified, beautifully efficient soul.

And so they avoid every hard question. Our real-world techniques for redressing grievances — negotiation, non-violent resistance, terrorism — are sidestepped. Magical mutant powers are a way better solution, clearly! Anyone who disagrees with the children’s vague vision of a world with enough nature for all is literally shown the light and they fall in line. The book ends (with no indication of a third book) as the poor Northerners start to trickle across the Wall, so the children don’t have to deal with how to parcel out land and build houses and feed those billions without destroying Nature.* This book ultimately has nothing to say about how we, without telepathy and mutant nature-vibes, can start to deal with our analogous problems.

(I hope I don’t have to tell you the world of ranting that will fall upon you if you try to tell me that middle grade science fiction isn’t for hard questions.)

*Not to mention that we only see Europe. Do terrorists seriously only try blowing up the wall at one spot in France on one day? No one else thinks of that or has the skills to do it? Everybody’s been shut up in the northernmost parts of the world for 25 years — who decides who’s going to move to the tropics? Who’s going to hack through all that perfect jungle growth in order to make room for people? There are some serious worldbuilding questions here!

Also reviewed by: Kirkus Reviews, Charlotte’s Library, Yearning to Read




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