Cover image for The whispers
The whispers
Publication Information:
New York, NY : G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019.
Physical Description:
229 pages : illustration ; 22 cm
"Eleven-year-old Riley's mom has disappeared and Riley knows that if he leaves tributes for the whispers, magical fairies that grant wishes, his mom will come back to him"-- Provided by publisher.
Geographic Term:


Material Type
Call Number
Children's Book Fiction Howar
Children's Book Fiction Howar
Children's Book Fiction Howar

On Order



A middle grade debut that's a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s .

Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn't realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

Author Notes

Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the "Ghost Capital of the South" (seriously...there's a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Eleven-year-old Riley resorts to extreme measures to find his mother after she disappears, believing he is "suspect number one" in a case that hasn't moved forward in months, the details of which he can't fully recall. He always thought his mother's favorite story, "The Whispers," about magical woodland creatures that can grant wishes, was straight fiction until one night he hears them call "She's here." To find his mother, Riley seeks to recreate the tale, embarking on a camping trip with an endearingly motley cast of friends to enlist the fantasy forces. A running use of vocabulary words that grew out of a game Riley and his mom played both advances the plot and offers nuance to Riley's emotions. Howard effectively layers Riley's character and "conditions" (he has been wetting the bed since his mother disappeared, and his attraction to boys is at odds with his evangelical Christian upbringing), offering clues about his mother's fate that readers will piece together before he does. This touching, often wry novel offers a memorable psychological puzzle and explores grief and acceptance. Ages 10-up. Agent: Brianne Johnson, Writers House. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Eleven-year-old Rileys beloved mother told him the story of the Whispers, invisible beings who know all the secrets of the universe and who, in exchange for tributes, will grant people their hearts desires. Now Mama has disappeared, and visits from the Worlds. Worst. Police. Detective. Ever make Riley feel hes under suspicion. It gradually becomes clear that Riley, whos been wetting the bed (my condition), has reason to be anxious. Things hes hiding include his possession of Mamas wedding ring and his fear that his other condition, the one that led him to enjoy a shared kiss with Kenny from Kentucky, somehow caused her departure. When Riley himself hears the Whispers, his intense desperation and self-blame make it believable that hes willing to sacrifice himself to get Mama back. Riley is an unreliable narrator, to the point that some readers may not understand right away what kind of book theyre reading (see Sharelle Byars Moranvilles 27 Magic Words, rev. 1/17, for a similar portrait of grief in disguise). But hes a thoroughly sympathetic one, and its easy to root for his eventual understanding of the truthand of his own blamelessness. shoshana flax January/February 2019 p 93(c) Copyright 2018. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

A boy attempts to find his lost mother in this moving tale. Riley's mother used to tell him stories about the Whispers all-knowing beings from the woods that can make one's desires come true. So when Riley's mom disappears, Riley seeks out the Whispers, with the help of his best friend, Gary, and Dylan, the enigmatic but kind older boy he has a crush on (even though his church says that's a sin). But the woods might not be safe, and maybe it's true what everyone suspects: that Riley knows more about what happened to his mom than he's admitting. As Riley learns the truth about his mother, the Whispers, and his own feelings, he begins to heal. Readers will root for Riley, who retains his hope and humor even in the face of grief, bullying, and the intolerance of his small South Carolina community. Secondary characters are well drawn, and although the story is heartbreaking in places, the ending is full of optimism and love. A touching story of grief and healing.--Mariko Turk Copyright 2019 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

these days, parents like to think of themselves as responsible for every aspect of their children's happiness and well-being. But often overlooked in this 21st-century conception of parent/child dynamics is the powerful sense of responsibility children feel for adults. A desire to protect their elders is particularly strong during the tween years, when the darkness and complexity of the world come into focus, but the magical thinking of childhood still offers the comfort of solutions. These four middlegrade novels capture something moving and seemingly eternal: When trouble strikes the grown-ups around them, children instinctively put themselves on the emotional front lines. A prime example is Riley James, the 11year-old narrator of Greg Howard's the WHISPERS (Putnam, 226 pp., $16.99; ages 10 and up). After his mother goes missing, Riley sets out to find the magical voices from a local legend that he believes can help him bring her back. A self-proclaimed "mama's boy... without his mama," Riley struggles with bed-wetting plus another "condition" - being attracted to boys - that some in his small, Christian town consider cause for shame. Riley heads into the woods to find the Whispers, accompanied by a "Stand by Me"-like band of misfits including the overweight Gary, his only friend; Gary's tag-along little brother, Carl; and the "Redneck Superhero" Dylan Mathews, an older boy whose sympathy (or perhaps empathy) for Riley's situation makes him a winsome champion. "The Whispers" does not turn out to be the fable it at first seems, but Howard pulls off the trick of making Riley's real quest even more heart-wrenching than the fantasy that drives it. This taut, moving tale delves beyond loss into issues of sexuality, conformity and self-acceptance. Riley's relationship with his missing mother, whom we see in flashbacks teaching him new vocabulary words, is particularly well drawn. "Use it in a sentence, Button," she tells him, encouraging Riley to redefine his world through language - a lesson he takes to heart after she goes missing. "The Whispers" is a masterful exploration into the power of storytelling but also its dangers, including self-denial and escapism. escapism is the guiding philosophy of Rodeo and his 12-year-old daughter, Coyote, the titular heroine of Dan Gemeinhart's THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF COYOTE SUNRISE (Holt, 352 pp" $16.99; ages 9 to 12). Since the death of Coyote's mother and sisters five years earlier, the pair have traveled around the country in an old school bus, calling each other by hippie road names and following their hankerings for taco trucks or sandwiches. But for all his whimsy and free-spiritedness, Rodeo has a few "no-go's," as he calls them, including ever returning to their hometown, Poplin Springs, Wash. Coyote is protective of her father and accepts their life of wandering, hiding her loneliness and grief behind bravado. But when she learns that developers are tearing up the local park where her mother and sisters buried a memory box, she enlists an eclectic group of fellow travelers to trick Rodeo into driving her there. Coyote's bold, engaging voice pops off the page and propels this road-trip novel through a series of charming, if unlikely, adventures. Some of the secondary characters serve the plot a little too neatly, but there are exceptions, like the boy escaping domestic violence who becomes Coyote's protector and friend. Gemeinhart infuses the story with moments of lyrical writing and folksy wisdom served up with a dollop of girl power. Coyote's determination to face reality rather than run from it ultimately allows her to heal not just herself but her father. the protagonist of Brenda Woods's the UNSUNG HERO OF BIRDSONG, U.S.A. (Nancy Paulsen, 194 pp., $16.99; ages 10 and up) also protects a cherished adult by confronting reality, in this case the reality of racism in his segregated postwar Southern town. After Meriwether Hunter, an unemployed African-American mechanic and World War II veteran, saves Gabriel Haberlin's life, the 12-year-old tries to return the favor by getting him a job at his father's garage. But as his friendship with Meriwether deepens, Gabriel starts to see the casual racism of friends and family in a new light, and after Meriwether confronts a bigoted fellow employee at the garage, Gabriel must save his savior from a potentially violent end. Woods casts a much needed spotlight on the history of African-American troops in World War II, including the all-black 761st Tank Battalion, which took part in the Battle of the Bulge. Meriwether embodies the dignity and frustration of these men who fought for their country overseas only to return home to prejudice and oppression, especially in the Jim Crow-era South. An underdeveloped villain and a hard-toswallow turn of events in the crucial scene threaten to weaken this important story. But Woods regains control with a realistic ending that incorporates the Great Migration and shows the limits of Gabriel's power to protect his friend. genesis Anderson, the heroine of Alicia D. Williams's stunning debut novel, geneSIS BEGINS AGAIN (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum, 382 pp., $17.99; ages 9 to 13), is another character who grapples with the legacy of race in America and the challenge of righting adult wrongs. Thirteen-year-old Genesis is tired of her family being constantly evicted, so when her alcoholic father moves them out of Detroit to a middleclass home in the suburbs and promises to start attending Alcoholics Anonymous, she's cautiously hopeful life will change. But Genesis and her family are still haunted by the past - including her darkskinned father's self-loathing and grief over a childhood tragedy and the prejudice of her light-skinned mother's family, who use "the paper bag test" to judge acceptable skin color (a test Genesis herself doesn't pass). When her father starts drinking again, eviction notices appear, and her parents' marriage falters, Genesis tries to fix her family by changing herself; by lightening her skin and straightening her hair, she hopes to make her family, and especially her father, proud of her - and by extension, themselves. In "Genesis Begins Again," Williams explores racism within the black community, creating a fully realized family with a history of complex relationships to one another, and to their own skin colors. The suburban school where Genesis finds herself navigating a diverse cast of friends and foes is no less vivid; a music teacher who introduces Genesis to blues greats like Billie Holiday and inspires her to sing in the school talent show is particularly memorable. But the standout voice in this tender and empowering novel - reminiscent of Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," but appropriate for a much younger audience - belongs to Genesis herself, as she discovers a truth that we adults would do well to remember: Growing up isn't just about taking responsibility for the happiness and well-being of others. It's also about learning what you can and should fix, and what you cannot. As Genesis discovers, there is no true reinvention without self-acceptance. Katherine marsh's most recent middle-grade novel is "Nowhere Boy," a 2018 Times Children's Notable Book.



There once was a boy who heard the Whispers. He heard them late in the day as the lazy sun dipped below the treetops and the woods behind his house came alive with the magic of twilight. The voices came to him so gently he thought it might be the wind, or the first trickle of summer rain. But as time passed, the voices grew louder and the boy was sure they were calling his name. So he followed them. The Whispers led the boy to a clearing deep in the woods where a rotted old tree stump sat in the center and fallen leaves covered the ground like crunchy brown carpet. The boy stood next to the stump, waited, and listened. He couldn't see the Whispers, but he knew they were there. Their wispy voices surrounded him, tickling the rims of his ears and filling every darkened shadow of the forest. After waiting patiently for quite some time, the Whispers' garbled words finally began to make sense to the boy, and they told him things. The Whispers knew everything--all the secrets of the universe. They told the boy what color the moon was up close and how many miles of ocean covered the Earth. They even told him how long he would live--26,332 days. The boy was pleased, because that sounded like a good long time to him. But as they continued to whisper knowledge into his ear, they never showed themselves to the boy. He only caught glimpses from the corner of his eye of their faint bluish glow fading in and out around him. He so badly wanted to see them, to know what kind of creatures they were. How big were they? Or how tiny? Were they thin, or fat, or hairy? Were they made of skin and bones like him, or of tree bark, or leaves, or dirt? Or something else entirely? The Whispers told the boy that if he brought them tributes, they would give him his heart's desires. The boy wasn't sure what a tribute was and he didn't want very much anyway. He could hardly call them heart's desires. Maybe a new pair of sneakers so the kids at school wouldn't tease him about his raggedy old ones. Maybe a better job for his father so he wouldn't worry so much about money. And he would love to see his mother smile again, something she rarely did anymore. But he guessed what he really wanted was to see the Whispers with his very own eyes. One day, as the boy's mother made a batch of her special blackberry jam, he asked her what a tribute was. She thought about it a moment and finally told him that a tribute was like a gift to show respect. The boy eyed his mother's handiwork spread over the kitchen table. Everyone loved her jam. When she took it to the local farmers market, she always sold out. And her blackberry jam was his personal favorite. He was sure it would make an excellent tribute for the Whispers. When his mother left the room, the boy took one of the jars from the table and hid it under his bed. The following afternoon, as the sun was setting, he went back to the clearing in the woods with the jam tucked under his arm. He left it sitting on the rotted old tree stump for the Whispers. Satisfied with his tribute, the boy spoke his heart's desires aloud and then hurried home as not to scare the Whispers away. When the boy's father got home from work that evening, his mood was lighter than usual and the lines of worry had completely vanished from his face. He told the family that he'd received a promotion at work and tomorrow the boy's mother should take him shopping to buy him new clothes and shoes for school. This news made his mother smile. The boy was amazed that he'd received three of his heart's desires with only one jar of jam. Surely the Whispers would reveal themselves to him if he took them a tribute even better than a jar of his mother's blackberry jam. And he knew just the thing. The next day, when the boy returned from shopping with his mother, he snuck out of the house right before sunset and took his new sneakers to the clearing in the woods. He kept them in the box, neatly wrapped in tissue paper so they wouldn't get scuffed or dirty. They were the nicest shoes he'd ever owned, and surely this tribute would persuade the Whispers to show themselves. When he approached the rotted old tree stump, he saw that the blackberry jam was gone. The boy wasn't surprised. He was sure the Whispers enjoyed his mother's jam just as much as everyone else did. He put the box with his sneakers on top of the rotted old tree stump, stood back, and waited. And waited. And waited. He waited so long, he wasn't sure the Whispers were pleased enough with his tribute. Finally something tickled the back of his neck with the lightest flutter of breath grazing his skin. It spoke his name and asked him what he wished. The boy froze. The Whispers had never come that close before. They must be pleased with his tribute after all. He was excited, but afraid if he moved it would scare them away, so he closed his eyes and remained perfectly still. "I wish to see you," the boy said in barely a whisper of his own. "I want to know what you look like. It's my heart's desire." At first there was no clear answer, only a garble of Whispers conversation that he couldn't understand. Then the words slowly pieced themselves together like a puzzle in his ear. "If we reveal ourselves, you can never leave us," the Whispers said, their velvety voices caressing his ear through the warm summer breeze. "You must stay here in the woods with us forever, for you will know everything, and that is a burden too great to bear in your world." The boy swallowed hard. He closed his eyes even tighter and stood very still as sweat trailed down his neck, the Whispers' words chilling him from head to toe. "Are you sure this is what you wish?" the Whispers asked. "To see us? To stay with us and become a whisper in the wind?" The boy began to worry. He thought about all the things he would miss if he stayed in the woods with the Whispers forever. He would never get to ride his bike again, or go swimming in the pond with his friends. And he would never see his mother and father again. It seemed like an awfully high price to pay just to see what the Whispers looked like. Besides, he'd already offered them his brand-new sneakers, and they were the nicest things he owned. Wasn't that enough? "No," the Whispers said, reading his thoughts. "It is not enough. If you see us, you must become one of us. And then you will know everything there is to know. You will hear everything. See everything. But the only tribute we can accept for that is your soul." The boy stood there with his eyes closed tight, scared he might accidentally see one of the Whispers and then the choice would be made for him. He needed a moment to think. The boy wondered what else there was to know. Because of the Whispers he knew the color of the moon up close, how many miles of ocean covered the Earth, and how long he would live--26,332 days. He knew he had a home to which he could return. He knew his parents loved him and his father worked hard to take care of their family. And the kids at school would tease him a little less now that he had brand-new sneakers. The boy knew it would be dark soon and if he waited too long he might never find his way out of the woods. Then what would the Whispers do with him? He felt around until he found the box with his sneakers on the tree stump. He grabbed it, turned, and ran as fast as he could. He held the box close to his chest and didn't dare open his eyes. He tripped and fell. Got back up and ran into one tree after another. Branches whacked him across the face and chest, but he kept running blindly through the woods. Only after he'd gone a good long ways and the tiny voices had faded behind him did the boy dare open his eyes. Even then he was careful not to look around. He stared straight ahead until he got to the tree line and ran the whole way home, never looking back, not even when he reached his house. After that the boy never heard the Whispers again, but he didn't mind. He already had his heart's desires. He had his mother. And his father. And his friends. And his brand-new sneakers. Plus he knew what color the moon was up close, how many miles of ocean covered the Earth, and how long he would live--26,332 days. He didn't know all the secrets of the universe and maybe he never would, but he knew plenty. This was Mama's favorite story. She told me the story every night until the day she disappeared. Then I started hearing the Whispers. And I followed them. Excerpted from The Whispers by Greg Howard All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.