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The Whispering Road Hardcover – May 19, 2005

4.1 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 7-10–In Victorian England, two poverty-stricken siblings, left by their mother at the workhouse and then sold to an abusive farmer, try to get to Manchester to find her. Joe and his younger sister are helped by a friendly tramp, encounter hideous Dog-woman, and join a traveling fair. Annie has some rare gifts: she can see the dead and prophesize the future. Joe, in a move he will deeply regret, leaves her with the performers and continues on to the city, where he takes up with a gang of orphans who fend for themselves. Next, a wealthy gentleman takes Joe in, but the boy eventually realizes that his benefactor thinks the poor are animals and runs off. He connects with a radical printer and his friend, Nell. When Joe finds Annie and discovers that their mother has died, the four of them make a family. This episodic novel moves from one tragedy to another, yet manages to end in hope. Joe is an engaging narrator who, through his love of stories, continually reinvents himself. Michael's depiction of 1830s Manchester is one of the best aspects of the novel. The chaos, poverty, and disease brought by industrialization are vividly drawn. With its blend of magical realism and grim history, this novel reads like David Almond meeting Charles Dickens. Although the book drags a bit in places, there is much that will appeal to teen readers.–Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Gr. 5-8. With a Dickensian flair, Michael follows Joe and his little sister, Annie, on the long and winding road in search of their mother, who abandoned them at a workhouse with a promise that she would return. But Mother is a long time coming, and the children are farmed out to an abusive master. Their escape from his clutches makes for a rousing beginning to the story, and their initial contacts, including one with strange Dogwoman, who runs with a canine pack, are hair-raising. But while the writing style remains vivid throughout and the odd assortment of characters piques interest, the story loses steam somewhere in the middle. By then, however, readers may be hooked, especially after Annie's gift of seeing spirits reveals their mother's whereabouts. Give this picaresque tale, which is not quite fantasy, to children who like long sagas; they will respond to the parade of people Joe meets, whose fragilities are hidden by their bravado. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile; First Edition edition (May 19, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399243577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399243578
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #515,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

A Kid's Review on April 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
I loved this book so much that I read it non-stop for a whole day!

The Whispering Road is a fantasy book which you won't want to put down.It is full of adventure and magic.

Joe and Annie were in the workhouse but they escaped.They found themselves on the road and thought they would never survive.It's hard for Joe because the only talent he has is telling stories, and he's got to look after Annie,who sees and hears things.Will they find their mother and will they cope with whispers and lies........? Follow Joe and Annie on a journey you will never forget.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a story about story-telling and the power of stories themselves. The main character, Joe, is a story teller himself who lives through adventures worthy of the fairy-tales he tells and learns to come to terms with the power of truth and the power of tales. While that may sound confusing, the book itself is not. With its short chapters and straight-forward tone, this is a book that begs to be read aloud. It is the story of two young children, Joe and Annie, abandoned by their mother in a workhouse and how they flee the terrible farm they've been sold to in order to find freedom and possibly their mother herself. Along the way they encounter of a rich and varying cast of characters whose capacity for kindness and cruelty is reminiscent of Charles Dickens. Annie disappears for a great deal of the novel, but Joe remains a rather interesting character with a refreshingly honest voice. There is a not-so-subtle subtest to this novel: recognition of the plight of the poor and the injustices suffered by the downtrodden, but it is a worthy lesson to learn. In fact, this book might be a good antidote to kids' complaints about modern life.

I was attracted to the wonderful artwork on the book jacket of THE WHISPERING ROAD and was only occasionally disappointed by the story. I wanted to see more of Annie, for example. While I would definitely hesitate to call this book a "fantasy novel", I would not hesitate to call it a true adventure and, in general, recommend it to readers young and old alike. Yes, it does have fantastical elements (for example Dog Woman or Annie's ability to see and speak to the dead), but its setting (Manchester, England and surroundings in the mid 19th century) is rooted in reality. And this reality is neither polished nor white-washed.
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Format: Hardcover
The definition for three Amazon stars is "It's OK.", and that is exactly where this book falls. If you read the professional reviews above carefully, you'll get that same feeling - there's nothing wonderful and there's nothing terrible and if some middle grade readers like this kind of book, then they'll like this book. That's about it.

The start is whiz bang, with an escape by two orphans from a cruel farmer. The older boy is a perfectly fine if unnaturally mature narrator, although a bit whiny and exasperated. The sister sees ghosts and is mostly either mute or uncooperative. She never figures much as a forceful presence in the book. The characters we meet on the road are predictable, (loner, crazy dog-woman, variously crooked or evil adults, street urchins, clueless or evil rich people), and you could have more or fewer depending on how long you wanted the book to be.

There's a hint of magical realism that drifts in and out of the book, but never develops into anything and seems to exist just to spice up the otherwise purely Dickensian vibe. I was surprised at how explicitly political the final chapters got, although the "problems" of the poor and of child labor in Victorian England are so unrelentingly driven home throughout the book that I guess this shouldn't have surprised me.

So, a workmanlike if oddly joyless effort, with standard Victorian characters and a predictable plot. Fairly heavy going.
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