Review: The Otherwoods by Justine Pucella Winans

The Otherwoods by Justine Pucella Winans

The Otherwoods
Justine Pucella Winans
Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Published September 12, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About The Otherwoods

The Otherwoods is calling. And it won’t be ignored.

Some would call River Rydell a ‘chosen one’: born with the ability to see monsters and travel to a terrifying spirit world called The Otherwoods, they have all the makings of a hero. But River just calls themself unlucky. After all, it’s not like anyone actually believes River can see these things–or that anyone even believes monsters exist in the first place. So the way River sees it, it’s better to keep their head down and ignore anything Otherwoods related.

But The Otherwoods won’t be ignored any longer.

When River’s only friend (and crush) Avery is kidnapped and dragged into The Otherwoods by monsters, River has no choice but to confront the world they’ve seen only in their nightmares–but reality turns out to be more horrifying than they could have ever imagined. With only their cat for protection and a wayward teen spirit as their guide, River must face the monsters of The Otherwoods and their own fears to save Avery and become the hero they were (unfortunately) destined to be.

Justine Pucella Winans will have you cowering and cackling as you follow River’s reluctant hero’s journey, perfect for fans of Doll Bones, Ghost Squad, and Too Bright to See.

The Otherwoods on Goodreads

My Review

Without a doubt, the most charming part of this book is River’s aversion to danger and the evolution of their beliefs about themself. At first, River believes they aren’t brave because they ignore monsters instead of confronting them and won’t enter the Otherwoods. Right away, I doubted their assessment– it would take an enormous amount of bravery for me to keep sleeping in a room where a monster lived under my bed. River instead names the monster and tries their best to ignore it. It makes sense, though, why River sees themself as not brave since they find themself constantly afraid. I love River’s inner monologue. They piece together the things happening around them in what is often a very kid-like, funny way.

I also like the way that River’s journey into the Otherwoods makes them realize there’s more to being brave than feeling brave. I like the way the story turns our perceptions of things on its head with unexpected moments and humor.

Also: the cat. If you know me, you know this was coming. But seriously. Mr. Fluffy Pancakes is fantastic. Not just for his name, which cracked me up. That cat has a huge personality. He never does anything without some cattitude. His love for River is also very clear and endearing. I adore him. Yay for books with cats!

On the whole, this one has some scary, intense moments, but it also shows a character who feels deeply afraid find ways to deal with those fears and learn to speak up about them. I love the way the story invites readers into River’s fears and shows us what it means to be brave in the face of them. While it’s not for every reader, I think THE OTHERWOODS has a lot to offer. I’d recommend it for readers who like portal stories or anyone looking for books about kids in tough circumstances who must learn to speak up for themselves.

The Otherwoods on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 10 to 14.

Main character is nonbinary. A couple of minor characters are also queer. One girl identifies as pansexual.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
River has a crush on their friend, Avery.

Spiritual Content
River sees monsters and spirits of the dead. They learn this is because they possess some magic.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Monsters come very close to River. A few scenes show confrontations between characters and monsters. In a couple, monsters are killed.

Drug Content

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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