Earlier today, I finished reading the fourth and final (?) book in the Riley Bloom series by Alyson Noël. I found Whisper to be a quick, fun, engaging read that I just know will be a hit with many of my older students. (For those that don’t know, I’m an elementary school librarian, and my fourth and fifth grade girls absolutely LOVE the Riley Bloom books.) I also think teen and adult readers will enjoy this story. I did.
In Whisper, Riley Bloom finds herself on her most difficult assignment as a Soul Catcher. Riley, Bodhi (her guide), and Buttercup (her dog), travel toRome where it’s up to Riley to convince a ghostly Roman gladiator to cross over into the Here & Now. There might be a couple of problems with this, though. The gladiator, Theocoles, also known as the Pillar of Doom, is seemingly stuck in his last moments. Riley doesn’t know how to get through to him, especially when she realizes that Theocoles can neither see nor hear her. Riley isn’t sure what to do, but a girl she encounters in Rome may be able to help her.
When Riley first meets Messalina, trust doesn’t come easily. She knows that Messalina is up to something, but she needs all the help she can get to convince Theocoles to cross over. So Riley takes Messalina’s advice and immerses herself in the gladiator world. Riley transforms herself into the young woman she’s always wanted to be and becomes a part of this strange life in ancient Rome. She may have even found her very first boyfriend. Riley, or Aurelia as she’s known in this new dream world, soon begins to forget why she was sent to Rome in the first place. What was her mission again?
Every once in a while, Riley/Aurelia gets a feeling that she’s supposed to be doing something important, but the answer slips away from her whenever Messalina is near. Can Riley wake up in time to complete her mission? Or will she be forever trapped within the world that has captured so many before her? Can both Riley and Theocoles learn to ignore the cacophony around them and listen to the whisper of truth that will lead them home? Read Whisper by Alyson Noël to find out!
This past week, I did a few lessons on genre with my second grade students, and we talked about books that fit into more than one genre. In my opinion, Whisper, like Shimmer, is a good example of that. Both of these books combine fantasy with a fair amount of historical fiction. Shimmer, of course, explored what life may have been like as a slave—and even as a slave owner—in the 1700s. Whisper delved into life in ancient Rome, particularly gladiator culture. The Ludus Magnus mentioned in this book is real and was considered to be a very important training ground for gladiators. I was especially interested in Noël’s descriptions of what the spectators of these brutal displays were like. Even Riley got swept up in the hullabaloo. I think it showed a disturbing side of human behavior, and it’s only too easy to imagine the world of gladiators rising in popularity in our modern culture. (Just look at what we watch on television or read Girl in the Arena if you don’t believe me!)
As far as I know, Whisper is the final book in the Riley Bloom series. (I hope I’m wrong.) There’s no mention on Goodreads or the author’s website of another book in the works. If this is the last I see of Riley, I want to say that the journey has been both fun and enlightening. I hope I get to share this series with many readers in the years to come!
If you want still more Riley Bloom goodness, check out this book trailer for Whisper (produced by Macmillan Children’s):