Before she disappeared, Riley's mama used to tell him stories about the Whispers, mysterious creatures with the power to grant wishes. Now, Riley wishes for his mother to come home. Four months later, and the police are no closer to finding out the truth – so Riley decides to take matters into his own hands.
The Whispers is one of those compelling, slippery books that shifts in tone and genre as you read along. It starts off in fantasy mode, with the "Whispers" well realised and full of wonder.
However, the magic and mystery gives way, bit by bit, and morphs into a sensitive look at trauma, mental health and "letting go". When the plot strands come together in the finale, there is real emotional wallop. Greg Howard guides young readers with assured sensitivity, but some children will benefit from talking to grown-ups about these issues.
Another emerging focus of The Whispers is Riley's crush on an older boy called Dylan, full of an 11-year-old's typical awkwardness. Riley has known he is gay for some time but displays real shame around this and is often heckled by classmates. This can feel uncomfortable but is sadly the experience of many others like Riley.
The Whispers is set in the US's rural deep South, with references to "rednecks" and evangelists that will feel alien to UK children – but there is enough emotional heft here to enthral any reader.