I’ve seen this book around (and with a cover this gorgeous, it’s hard to forget). When it came up as the November book for my local bookstore‘s Fantasy/Sci-Fi Book Club, I decided that this would be the right time to join my first meeting. So I got the book, read it…and of course something came up and I can’t attend. So I’ll have to recognize it in a different way. Sine the meeting is this evening, I’m going officially post my review here today. That’s close to actually going and talking about the book in person, right?
“‘Going back’ had two distinct meanings at the school, depending on how it was said. It was the best thing in the world. It was also the worst thing that could happen to anybody. It was returning to a place that understood you so well that it had reached across realities to find you, claiming you as its own and only; it was being sent to a family that wanted to love you, wanted to keep you safe and sound, but didn’t know you well enough to do anything but hurt you. The duality of the phrase was like the duality of the doors: they changed lives, and they destroyed them, all with the same, simple invitation. Come through, and see.”
Nancy walked through a door and found herself in the Halls of the Dead, an Underworld that prized stillness and punished motion and restlessness. Though years passed for her there, she is now back in the “normal” world, on orders from the Lord of the Dead that she cannot return until she is absolutely sure that it’s what she wants. But only weeks have passed in this world and her parents, hoping that someone else can help bring back the daughter she used to be before her disappearance, send her to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. But Eleanor runs a particular kind of home, and collects children who have returned, confused and yearning to go back, from the many worlds that their doors led them too. She meets Sumi (who visited a high Nonsense, high Virtue world), Jack and Jill (who visited a high Logic, high Wicked world), Kade (who visited a high Logic Fairyland), Christopher (a fellow visitor of an Underworld, but perhaps a more Nonsense one), and more. And they all, except perhaps Kade, want to go back – will perhaps do anything, go too far, to make it back to their through-the-door worlds.
“She dreamt of ghosts, and silent halls where the dead walked, untroubled.
Christopher dreamt of dancing skeletons that gleamed like opals, and the unchanging, ever-welcoming smile of the Skeleton Girl.
Kade dreamt a world in all the colors of the rainbow, a prism of a country, shattering itself into a thousand shards of light.”
I loved this book – the story, the atmospheric tone, the language – everything was exactly what it needed to be. The exposition and dialogue was executed so exactly that nothing was left wanting, despite the sparseness of words. The author could easily have used three times as many words to tell this story, but I do not feel like anything was lost for it being so short. In fact, the feel created by the brevity was ideal for the story being told – the short details about the characters and their worlds were the perfect little snapshots. Also, I cannot say how much I appreciated the straightforward, no nonsense, lack of frills way that sex, sexuality, gender and attraction were handled. The author wrote about them as if each characters’ feelings and decisions were every day, perfectly understandable…which, despite being what should be the norm, is generally not the case (particularly considering the wide range of sexuality and gender represented). I’d even venture to say that they were handled bluntly – no oblique descriptions or innuendos to be found – which was absolutely refreshing.
As far as the story itself, the plot was, in fact, fairly superficial. However, it functioned in its purpose just enough to move things along as we experience the real power of the story. While not particularly profound in and of itself, I found that after finishing, I was left deeply touched by the setting and the characters. Each of their experiences, while in detail wildly different, have a common base that spoke directly to the parts inside myself (the parts inside each of us) that we feel we need to hide from others, the parts that make us feel like outsiders, like we don’t fit in. I also thought that the way each of the characters has an odd problem or dysphoria, one that makes them unable to function fully in “normal” world setting is reminiscent of the Harry Potter fan theories that say Harry is actually a regular kid who has some kind of psychological disorder and that the entirety of the story is not “real,” but is happening in his head. In this case, their travels to worlds that accept or highlight those “worst” parts of them is just a fantastical explanation for something that is otherwise completely unfair: that some youth have to deal with difficult/terrible situations and treatment, while others don’t, and there is not always somewhere/one they can go to for help. Altogether, this book recognizes and highlights deeps truths about being an outcast, or feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, in an incredibly nuanced, quirky way.
“…hope is a knife that can cut through the foundations of the world.”
A fast, whimsical and profound read, with just a hint of sinister, in perfect measure. A fantastic tale with a moral of [self] acceptance. This one will stay with me for a long time.