cover image The Otherwoods

The Otherwoods

Justine Pucella Winans. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5476-1254-3

Born with the ability to see spirits, the “spiritish,” and monsters, a nonbinary 12-year-old attempts to avoid the otherworldly in this emotionally complex portal fantasy. Despite its near-constant beckoning, River Rydell has so far managed to resist the call of the Otherwoods, a monster-ruled realm “where the darkness of magic runs free.” Though River firmly believes that “the call of adventure was better left ignored,” everything changes abruptly when the ever-pursuing Otherwoods snatches new friend and crush Avery Davis. Accompanied by feline sidekick Pancakes, River ignores self-preservation instincts and launches a rescue mission, navigating a cursed bridge, braving monsters including a deadnaming schoolteacher, and developing a sibling-like rapport with teenage spirit Xavier, their Otherwoods guide. Balancing gruesome creature encounters with an empowering meditation on bravery, this middle grade debut from Winans (Bianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything) offers up a panoply of nightmarish ghouls and harrowing perils, but the real appeal comes from tender interpersonal ties and themes of self-discovery. Pansexual Avery is Mexican American; River defaults to white. Ages 8–12. Agent: Patricia Nelson, Marsal Lyon. (Sept.)