Y’all – I was feeling stressed and anxious from all this pandemic situation and I was looking for something to take me away a bit, in a nice happy way. And I can’t believe it took such a drastic situation to pick up this third installation in this series, because I LOVED the first two (Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones) SO much. Like, SO much. But as I was browsing my shelves for the right unread book to pick up, this cotton candy cover jumped out and I knew – I knew it was time and I knew that the reason I had waited so long was because it was holding out for the exact moment I needed it most to call out to me. (Alright, maybe not, but I can tell you for sure that it was, in fact, exactly what I needed.)
“We’re all puzzle boxes, skeleton and skin, soul and shadow.”
So, this novel (novella?) continues the series about children/adolescents who found doors into other worlds, worlds that gave them something they were missing in this, their “own” world, and have since, for whatever reason, been sent back. They are all “collected” at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, as they readjust and wait for their doors to open back up. In this installation, Rini falls out of the sky from the world of Confection (a Nonsense and Reason world) into this one. She has come on a quest to find her mother, who needs to be brought back to save the world of Confection. But her mother, Sumi, died back in the first book, and Rini is blindsided by this discovery – and refuses to believe it. So she convinces a group of the Wayward Children, including favorite returners like Christopher and Kade and Nancy, along with a wonderful newcomer, Cora, to help her bring Sumi back. And they must move quickly, because Rini is disappearing a little bit at a time and, if they can’t get Sumi back, she’ll cease to exist altogether.
McGuire has done it again! This particular book was a little lighter overall than the first two, since they focused, respectively, on a murder mystery and a door to a particularly dark and twisty world. The setting for this one could only be so intense, as Confection is a world made completely out of baked goods and sugary treats (every child’s dream, right?!). Plus, as a Nonsense world, the “rules” are pretty fast and loose (like it only takes a day to get to and from anywhere in Confection, no matter how far apart the locations actually are), so that keeps things pretty light as well. But, like I said above, this was the perfect time for a happier reading setting, so I was feeling it. Plus, especially for people who bake as a coping mechanism and for self-care, this little novel will speak right to you. The “magic” of baking is highlighted in both a literal and metaphorical sense, and I can see people identifying hard with that aspect. And there was still definitely a deeper level to some aspects, like clear messages about how some things that are sugary on the outside can be bitter/bad inside. Plus, the ever-present lessons about what every person is called to do/be (and how it’s different for everyone, but no less right or wrong for being so different) and the components/features that make us who we are.
The plot was not something particularly ground-breaking, similar to the first novel (where the murder mystery was more perfunctory than anything else). But it was a fun one and kept the story moving forward and gave the reader a chance to get to know all the characters better and explore these “worlds” a bit more…because this is the first time the characters, and the reader, get to travel through door to worlds that aren’t “theirs.” First, the group all visits Nancy (our original MC) in the Halls of the Dead and then they all travel together to Confection. It was really interesting to see the way each person, even though they were so unhappy in their first world that a door opened to take them somewhere else, could be even less happy in one of the other worlds. It put people’s personal preferences and needs into a great perspective. And with that, yet again, part of McGuire’s genius and the beauty of these books is the way she is able to perfectly distill down the feeling of “not belonging” somewhere and the comfort of knowing that somewhere out there is a world exactly right for you, where you do belong. I always feel filled up and seen and understood after finishing these books, as someone who has definitely felt like they don’t belong before. It’s a feeling that I (and I’m sure many others) identify with deeply and I’ll never get over the way these books feed that part of my soul.
It was also really cool how, in this installment, we got to learn even more about the way these doors and worlds intersect and overlap and work. With each book, I feel like we get a little more about it and the way it’s slow world-building across each, developing further in each story, is a great aspect that makes these more than just standalone tales, albeit heart-warming, embracing, courageous, meaningful tales. And, in this particular book, there was an addition of body positivity (specially weight-based, and, towards the very end, a small piece with physical disability) that was a uplifting and, I felt, well-presented and handled. One more beautiful side-note, the few illustrations sprinkled throughout are stunning.
I am really just a sucker for this series. This particular one was probably not my favorite of the first three, but I still could not put it down. It delivered on everything I was looking for when I picked it up and I love everything about the way McGuire writes, in general and in this format/series in particular. There’s something so fairy-tale and fable-like about these books, and yet they are also so much more than that in a way I struggle to describe. They have deep meaning for me, a profound effect on me emotionally and psychologically, and I just couldn’t love or recommend them more.
“Everyone’s lives prepared them for something different.”
“Cheating was always a matter of perspective, and of who was giving out the grades.”
“Cake and candy and fudge and gingerbread don’t all follow of the same rules, so how can anyone make rules that work for everyone at the same time?”
“…shared differences, which became their shared similarities when held up to the right light. They had all survived something. The fact that they had survived different somethings didn’t change that fact that they would always be, in certain ways, the same.”
“I like my sugar in skull form, and my illumination to come from lanterns hung in the branches of leafless trees.”
“Sometimes that’s all you can do. Just keep getting through until you don’t have to do it anymore, however much time it takes, however difficult it is.”
“…everyone who found a door – understood what it was to spend a lifetime waiting for something that other people wouldn’t necessarily understand. Not because they were better than other people and not because they were worse, but because they had a need trapped somewhere in their bones, gnawing constantly, trying to get out.”
“There is kindness in the world, if we know how to look for it. If we never start denying it the door.”