The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb

The Fetch is one of those rare books that took me completely by surprise. An inspired combination of history, religion and the supernatural, Laura Whitcomb’s unique if sometimes ponderously paced second novel pushes at the boundaries of teen literature, nudging the field in a startling new direction. Calder was nineteen years old when he died and became a Fetch, one of the few souls chosen to escort the newly dead into Heaven. Always dutiful, he has never wavered from his task even though he is nagged by feelings of insecurity and doubt as to why he was called to such a sacred post. But when he sees a beautiful woman with red-gold hair nursing her ill child, he falls instantly in love and is for the first time ever compelled to go back into the land of living in order to be with her. What he does not discover until later is that the woman is Alexandra Romanov and her sickly child Alexis Romanov, heir to the Russian throne. Once he realizes that there is no way he can take the woman from her husband and family, it is too late. Calder is stuck on the earthly plane, trapped in the bearish body of none other than the infamous Rasputin, the “mad monk” and questionable spiritual adviser to the Romanovs. Meanwhile, Rasputin’s soul is running amuck in the Land of Lost Souls, raising a spirit army who see Calder as their enemy and are determined to keep him from Heaven. Those familiar with history know that the Imperial Family comes to a tragic end during the Russian Revolution. Calder as Rasputin is able to save two of the Romanov children, Anastasia and Alexis, although they are stuck in a limbo between life and death. Now he must embark upon an impossible quest to deliver the children to Heaven and find his way back to the Fetchkind. Reading this book is like being lost in a fevered dream. Calder’s quest is hazy and exhausting, plagued with flashbacks from his past human life and avenging demons from this one. Years can pass in few paragraphs, while some legs of the journey take pages. Like Ana and Alexis, some of you will simply want to put your head down and go to sleep after several promising leads turn out to be dead ends. This densely written tome, loaded with literary and religious symbolism, is not for all of my teen reader peeps. But for those who savor a challenge and stick with Calder to the end, a paradise awaits. Whitcomb’s gorgeous descriptions of the afterlife are comforting and original, and my heart lifted as almost never before when I read the final few pages. Pacing aside, this strange bird of a novel is quite a start to the 2009 year in YA lit.

9 thoughts on “The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb

  1. That’s good to know; I’m maybe 50-something pages in and it’s still a bit hard to get into. All the ideas are so odd, it’s very hard to be able to relate to the story. I’m going to stick with it, though, because I really liked the author’s A Certain Slant of Light and also because your review makes it sound like it is worthwhile.

  2. My only problem is getting reluctant teens to read a densely written tome—-sounds great for me–maybe faculty book club too. Thanks!

  3. I am glad I found this review, I have had this ARC for a few weeks and could not seem to get past the first few chapters. I did enjoy the world building that Laura had used with this complex story, but something did not compel me to read further. Maybe it was the thought of Rasputin, he seriously freaks me out. I will have to go back and pick it up and continue.

    Thank you for the great review

  4. I so agree with your comments! I was beginning to think I was the only one besides my teens who liked it 😉 The pacing is a definite problem when Calder begins his journey – it bogs down but it is worth being patient. It is such an unique book with so much packed into it and so many unusual ideas that it kept me fascinated.

    I gave it to our book club teens, wondering if they would be willing to stick with it and all three who have taken it have really loved it. Proves again that we should never underestimate teen readers!

  5. this book sounds weirdly connected to curse of the romanovs by statin rabin. if you like this book, curse of the romanovs is a great read and seems easier to get into.

  6. I can’t seem to get into it! The concept is really well thought out, but the first few chapters are boring!

  7. I read the book in two days, fascinated by the premise and then the historical personalities that are woven into the main. Yes, it is not a smoothly written story but the inventiveness of imagined afterlife kept me going. Rasputin is one of my favorite ”who WAS this guy” mystic personas…and the take on his intermingling with Calder, the present and the beyond is so intriguing. I had difficulty with the timing of events…and some of Alexis dialogue. But for me, this treatment of what we can’t see is fresh and deserves somes touting. I liked it. In some ways I was reminded of ‘The Book Thief’ with the treatment of death and having someone ‘beyond’ watching as the living live. Not for everybody, spiritual yet grounded.

  8. I have no problems reading this book. I just breezed through, reading it in around four hours and devoured it left with a pleasant aftertaste and a hunger for more. None of the dialougue, as far as i was concerned was difficult to understand, expresially not Alexis. As a historical fiction novel it actually kept the real life timing and spacing of events and what those events were themselves, but to an obvious point it is fiction. Somehow a connection to the story was immediate for me, and my school book club is reading it – i am 15. The ideas are complex and well rounded, with a spiritual basis but not offensive to anyone as it is only alluded to in the first and last parts of the book within any length. The idea that there was a spirit who would take lost souls through heaven was what caught me from the first paragraph and sucked me into this alternate world of the Romanovs. But I’m probably biased. (not bragging, just stating a fact) i was at a HS Senior reading level in fourth grade.
    But still. It is a beautiful book and it really doesn’t take that much to get into it. Bu the time i was three quarters of the way through I was itching to know what was going to happen on the last page as much if not more than i was when i began the first page.

  9. So glad to hear that you liked it, Ana. I thought it was beautifully written but did wonder if many teens would be into it. Thanks for chiming in!

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