ARC Review: The Thickety – The Whispering Trees by J.A. White

ARC Review: The Thickety – The Whispering Trees by J.A. White
The Thickety: The Whispering Trees
by J.A. White

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Middle Grade
Publication date: March 10, 2015
by Katherine Tegen

Format: eARC

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After Kara Westfall’s village turns on her for practicing witchcraft, she and her brother, Taff, flee to the one place they know they won’t be followed: the Thickety. Only this time the Forest Demon, Sordyr, is intent on keeping them there. Sordyr is not the Thickety’s only danger: unknown magic lurks behind every twist and shadow of the path. And then Kara and Taff discover Mary Kettle, an infamous witch with an unspeakable past—she is everything their village fears about magic.

When Mary shows them the path leading out of the Thickety guarded by Imogen, a creature more monster than human, Kara is hesitant to trust her. But then she offers to help Kara learn to cast magic without a grimoire…and this could be Kara and Taff's only chance to escape.

Or the first step down a dark and wicked path.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

When it comes to dark books, this is dark as dark can be in a supernatural sense, which is quite surprising given how this is a bloody MIDDLE GRADE BOOK. Like seriously, it has a twelve year old and a seven year old, experiencing so many things that would have made me run for the hills already. The blurb calls it a “middle grade fantasy”, but a more accurate description would be, “middle grade that sends you to hell, and takes you back just to send you to hell again”. Yup.

But who’s complaining? I certainly am not. As a lover of dark books, I welcome the second installment of a series whose first book successfully made me want to stay the fuck away from possibly psychopathic children playing with powers of demonic origin. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: do not read this book if you’re looking for something that would make you laugh, cry and be in cloud nine. There is no puking of rainbows and butterflies here. In this installment, we have a living, breathing forest full of creepy wonders; siblings running for their lives; and, oh, a whole bunch of other things like death, betrayal, forest demons, originally-kind-turning-into-scary kids as they keep using their powers…

I present to you ME after reading this book:

What I really love about this series as a whole is how scary they portray magic and witches to be. So many times I’ve picked up books about witches, only to read about love potions and boring spells that won’t even faze a toddler. I mean, come on, that’s not even exploring the potential of one’s capabilities, and the repercussions one gets when they abuse their powers.

That’s where J.A. White’s books get it right: the concept of magic not being a one-sided thing. Yes, you get to use some spells, but in exchange, this unseen, yet terrifying force takes something from you, too. A memory or two, a bit of your humanity here and there, which may sound really harmless at first glance, but can get deadly if abused… because the question lingers: what would become of you when you’ve forgotten who you were, or when you don’t have a single ounce of compassion left?

That’s a big chunk of why this series is so scary to me. It’s not the magic, it’s not even that big, bad boogeyman chuckling evilly in the forest, beckoning you to come closer. It’s the fact that ANYONE – even an innocent, honest person – can be tempted to use magic for ANYTHING, only to yearn for it more and more after the first bite. How the continuous, extreme uses of something such as magic can push people downwards to a never-ending abyss of obsession. How it can turn someone into a new person… and oftentimes, for the worse.

Add to the fact that in this second book, Kara and her brother are now in the Thickety itself, a forest made of evil and your worst nightmares. And when I say it’s scary, I mean, holy-shit-I’m-pissing-my-pants scary. I remember reading this part where our characters get to an “abandoned” village… only to realize it’s not abandoned at all, and all the villagers have been turned into Darkeaters, where their physical body has been turned into something else, and the real ones are the shadows… like seriously, doesn’t that just creep you out?!

And every step of the way, every minute we accompany Kara and her brother in their adventure, we wouldn’t be able to help but feel for her. She has gone through so much, even went almost to the deep end, that you just want her to succeed. She definitely grows a lot here. She becomes more involved and more cautious of her powers and how they are to be used, and takes note how they are a double-edged sword (she’s a smart cookie!), making the ride into the Thickety far more interesting and engaging.

If you’re scared of reading one-dimensional characters, you need not fear when it comes to this one, because even side characters here are as complex as our heroine, perhaps even more so.

Yes, the book is still scary and creepy and disturbing, but, it’s kind of noble in a weird sense, in my opinion. Because despite all the dark things this is full of, it somehow serves as a gentle reminder to us, too, of what it means to be human and how important it is not to let go of that one thing that keeps us grounded.

One thing is for sure: if you haven’t read the first book, do it now, and THEN read this one. You won’t regret it, I promise.

Rating Report
Plot
Characters
Writing
Pacing
World-building
Impact
Overall: 4.3
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Faye

Faye

A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena

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    • FayeFaye says

      I don’t really recommend it to 10 year olds, Pili! Haha. The first book had witches, deaths, animals preying upon humans, and severe cases of ostracization that even made me feel sick to my stomach… it’s MG, but better read by adults, or at least a 13 year old who can better comprehend and handle darker themes.

  1. says

    WOW. I was not expecting this to sound as gory and as bloddy as you make it out to be! I’m shocked that there’s so much violence in a middle grade book; but intrigued at the same time because I love books that showcase the darker side of humanity in general. Definitely going to have to give this a try – thanks for sharing, and, as always, fabulous review! <3 SO glad you're back! <3
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    • FayeFaye says

      Me, too, but it’s really great! I do wonder now if it’s apt to call it a “middle grade” when the content is anything but that. If you like books like that, Zoe, you’ll definitely love this one as well!

    • FayeFaye says

      Wheeee, I’m happy to know that, Cate!!! I have read A Monster Calls, yes. From 75% of the book till the end I was a crying mess. You’ll love this one for sure ^_^

  2. says

    I can’t stop laughing Faye, that GIF and that a middle grade left you traumatised and not because it was so horrid either. Based on that alone, I’ll have to grab a copy just to see how scary this one is. I’ve missed your reviews, you never fail to make me laugh. I love that under all the creepy mystery that it still has a gentle message of humanity. *gives Faye a hug* The big bad middle grade booky wooky can’t hurt you anymore.

    I <3 you Faye. Absolutely LUUUURVE this review! <3
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    • FayeFaye says

      Awww, I’m glad to know that I can still tickle your funny bone, Kelly! Haha. It’s an achievement for me when I make you laugh, since to me you’re pretty funny yourself ;)

      Yes, this is what I really like about this one. It’s so dark and everything, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Either that or I’m just overthinking this, which wouldn’t surprise me, either… I tend to do that a lot.

  3. Laila BC says

    i haven’t read a lot of MG books…and your review of this book is quite surprising..that this one will have such a very heavy dark theme…which might be ok for non MG readers…but i don’t know if many MG readers will be able to handle this theme with an open mind. I know you like your books gory and dark sometimes Faye…so i am not surprise you end up loving this one.
    however, i don’t mind dark themes even in MG…it does makes the reading experience more interesting :)

    • FayeFaye says

      Yeah, I’m not sure either. The first book was already such a huge dark book, and I’m not sure kids will be able to appreciate them like us adults do. If you like reading dark themes, Laila, I’m pretty sure you’ll be enjoying this one a lot! :)

    • FayeFaye says

      Haha, oh come on, Melanie! I’m sure it wouldn’t be that bad for you! ;) I bet you’re psychologically stronger than me in more ways than one so you can do it!

      And yes, that cover with the creepy trees is gorgeous. Despite the fact that, you know, it has CREEPY trees.

    • FayeFaye says

      I really hope you like dark MGs that are akin to Harry Potter, because this one is the very few that I find that can actually compare to it, sans the large cast of characters of course, because this one only highlights a certain few. I hope you like it, Mary Claire!

  4. says

    Oh wow that sounds pretty dark for an MG novel. Maybe it’s like MG for adults!? >.< I def love the sounds of it though. I love all things dark so you had me at your very first sentence! it's funny how the scariest parts of a story or anything is the unknown. The what-ifs etc. Like just thinking that danger is just around the corner, you know. And the whole magic concept sounds very well done and thought provoking. Great review, honeybuns! I'll need to give book 1 a try!
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    • FayeFaye says

      It’s definitely MG for adults. I don’t think it can work any other way because it’s definitely too dark for someone under thirteen years old… and I don’t even recommend it for anyone under fifteen, lest they can comprehend responsibly the things seen in here. Haha. And yes, you’re right, the scariest is definitely the unknown because they’re so predictable and beyond our control. I really hope you like what this book has to offer, Giselle! It’s so underappreciated right now it makes me bonkers because it deserves more people knowing about it!

  5. says

    Wow, this one sounds like it is really scary, especially those lost villagers that turn into shadows! A forest made out of your worst nightmares? That is just freaky, and the fact that it’s in a MG novel just makes it all the more interesting. I love how magic is addressed as a form of power, in fact you could sub in “power” and your sentence would apply as well. It really makes you think, you know? Fantastic review as always, Faye!
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    • FayeFaye says

      I know, right! That part was such a pure mindfuck to my innocent brain. I’m not sure I’ll be able to reverse the “turning-inside-out” that happened to it. Bahaha! I love that it’s an MG novel :) Kids and dark things look scary in real life, but it’s intriguing to read on paper.

    • FayeFaye says

      This? In a children’s section of the library? Maybe, if you want to traumatised kids and give them nightmares for weeks! Hahaha. It just doesn’t measure :P

  6. says

    I love dark books as well, but I can’t seem to fathom how this could be MG! From the way you describe it, no one should be letting their children read it! :P Buuut, the themes in the book are resounding and can be taken and implemented in real life as well. Life is not just about taking without consequences, like magic. I’m definitely intrigued by this series, I hope I don’t piss my pants reading it!
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    • FayeFaye says

      I know! This is seriously an adult book with children characters, because I’m like, 22, and the stuff here gave me shivers down my spine. Definitely not an MG in essence!

    • FayeFaye says

      HAHAHA!!! I know that feeling! I had to put book #1 down because that evil girl Grace gave me intense feelings like you wouldn’t believe. Ughhh.

  7. says

    Hmmmm …. this book sounds really intriguing. I think my twelve year old son would like it, but based on your reviews of this one and the first book, I think I might need to read it myself first to see if I want him to read it. I don’t think he’d be freaked out, but it does sound VERY dark … thanks for the warnings!
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    • FayeFaye says

      I wouldn’t recommend giving it to someone younger than 15, but if you can hold your son’s hand along the way, I don’t see why not! I’m not kidding how creepy and dark it is D:

  8. says

    This sounds like it’s absolutely scarier and creepier than Coraline, which just about creeped me out to my limit. I am notorious (I imagine- I am probably not at all) for the fact I have a very low level of creepiness before it is well enough and starts my paranoia up, but at the same time I do kind of want to read this. It sounds very creepy indeed and not really like a MG book, but despite the fact that should warn and ward me off I am still intrigued. I know I shouldn’t do it to myself, I’ll just end up regretting it when I can’t sleep at night, but it does sound really, really interesting… excellent review, Faye! Glad the series is going well for you! xx
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