The Whispers know all the secrets of the universe. If they’re real, can they help Riley find Mama?
Eleven-year-old Riley’s mother has been missing for four months. The Fat Bald Detective that Riley sees weekly for questioning has made no progress in the case. Riley’s father, older brother, and grandparents don’t talk about Mama’s absence, which doesn’t help matters. Riley has begun wetting the bed, which he calls his “condition,” but there’s this “other condition” that he fears may be the reason his mother left or was taken: Riley wants to kiss boys rather than talk with his best friend, Gary, about a female classmate’s "miraculously inflated boobs." Riley is convinced the Whispers, unseen creatures from his mother’s favorite story, will accept an offering in return for his heart’s desire—his mother’s return—which drives the plot, along with Riley’s exploration of his identity as a gay preteen in the rural South. Howard places unreliable-narrator Riley at the center of his middle-grade debut. The slow reveal of what actually happened to Mama leads to a satisfying and touching conclusion, one that careful young readers may see before it arrives. Riley and his family are white; Gary is biracial (black/white); their classmates in their small South Carolina town are diverse.
A realistic tale of coming to terms and coming-of-age, of friendship and loss, with a touch of magic and humor. (Fiction. 9-14)