The Whisper, by Aaron Starmer ( sequel to 2014's The Riverman). I don't think I am the Right Reader for this one.
Basically, what happens in The Whisper is that Alistair, a 12 year old kid, fairly ordinary for most of his fairly uneventful life in the middle of New York State, finds himself in a rather nightmarish situation. In the many realities of an alternate universe known as Aquavania, where kids from our world can create their own fantastical realities, his best friend/potential girlfriend if things had been different Fiona was lost to the mysterious Riverman. The Riverman sucked her soul out, and so both the real-world Fiona and the constructed reality Fiona are gone. And Fiona is not the only one to be so disposed of. At the end of book 1, it was revealed (shockingly and horrifically) who the Riverman was), and now Alistair is travelling the worlds of Aquavania looking for Fiona, for the Riverman (now aka The Whisper), and for answers.
And I bobbed along in Alistair's wake, bouncing from story to story (and they were good, fascinating stories, these glimpses of imagined realities, though sometimes with disturbingly horrific elements), looking for Answers, and feeling that I was fumbling. I kept wanting things to make Sense, but in the same way that dreams don't make Sense, and being a story-telling person trying to understand reality/other people doesn't make sense, neither does Alistair's story.....(at least it didn't to me).
At times I felt like I was in a somewhat more pleasant version of Harlan Elison's scary story "I have no mouth and I must scream," in that "reality" was constantly being shifted by an all powerful game master, though The Whisper was much less viscerally disturbing (being middle grade). Alistair's struggles to achieve his goals in a game where everything was stacked against him (or was it?) gave me the same sense of being trapped in a nightmare as Elison's story did. The only thing that kept me sane were the generous bits of back matter from Alistair's childhood--these made sense, both in themselves, and as steps toward understanding the larger story.
If you like stories of characters involved in dangerous games, full of pretty phenomenal imagined realities, you many well like this one lots! Kirkus calls it "A riveting, imaginative, disconcerting, inscrutable, unresolved sequel, guaranteed to leave readers anxious for the finale" and I can't disagree...It never occurred to me to put it down, and though it was not exactly to my own taste, I have a feeling that in Book 3 I may be offered slightly more solid ground and I will able to look back more kindly on Alistair's adventures here.
Here's something I can say with happy confidence--I loved Aaran Starmer's first book, The Only Ones! It gives me hope that the tangle in my mind with regard to this series will be resolved....
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher