5 out of 5 HUGO AWARD WINNING Stars
We notice the silence of men. We rely on the silence of women.
I finally have read this. I loved every minute. AND THIS BABY JUST WON A HUGO! I’m so excited for Seanan!
How to express my feelings. No time to do that. Let me sum up. Oh but summing up is hard… how does one sum up the human heart? Or an adventure?
This takes place in Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. It’s a boarding school for those who have wandered through doors, portals, down mysterious staircases or stepped through mirrors. What becomes of the chosen one when they are no longer needed? Or worse, have been rejected by their alternate world?
The main character is Nancy, a tall willowy, still girl, with something not quite finished around the eyes. She was a servant of the Lady of Shadows in the Halls of the Dead, loved and protected by the Lord of the Dead himself. But she was sent back and no one understands what she’s going through. Her parents want back the child they lost when she was “kidnapped” and all she wants is to prove herself and find the door back to the Halls of the Dead. She is sent to Eleanor West’s boarding school. But, luckily for Nancy, the place is a fraud.
Eleanor West isn’t going to cure the children of their delusions. She understands their feelings all too well, because at one time, she was little Ely West, and she went wandering in a land beyond a mirror. She knows what it is to try and forget about the real home you’ve left behind. She wants to help them learn how to move on, while not treating them like lunatics.
The first person Nancy meets is Sumi, a Japanse girl who is Nancy’s polar opposite. Everyone is going on about places, calling them a Logic world or a Nonsense world. Sumi is all nonsense. She’s too fast to Nancy’s stillness, she’s blunt, loud, and darling. I loved her. There is also Kade, who helps everybody out with the clothes their parents send them to school with. Of an intellectual mind, Kade’s room is completely overtaken by books. I loved that he was from Oklahoma. 🙂 He went to a place of high logic that threw him out when he no longer fit the image they had of him. It’s something that mirrors the experience of kids on the LGBTQ spectrum and just added another level to the story. So much of this was about home and finding a home. Choosing your home, and pining for the one you can’t have.
There is a lot of good rep in this – there is a Japanese and Mexican character. Nancy is asexual and there is trans rep as well.
The most fascinating characters are Jack and Jill – I am now excited for the follow up, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, because it focuses on them. They found a secret staircase and went to a world that was like a gothic horror movie. They are female twins, but I think Jack is non-binary, or at least prefers dressing in traditionally male clothing. Jill is all airyfairy and mopes for her lost master. But Jack was another matter. She was an apprentice to a mad scientist and it’s made her kind of morbid. She also has no filter so she’s very in your face.
Ok, so I haven’t talked about the plot at all. Basically, the wayward children start showing up dead. As a new kid, and from an underworld, Nancy is an immediate suspect in the eyes of the populace. She’s not the only one with the touch of morbidity, however. There is also a boy who can make bones dance. Jack is weird and usually draws the ire of everyone. Some of the kids are more suited to investigating the murders than others, and are also accused of being involved. It was just so good. I did kind of guess what was going on, but I didn’t think this was predictable.
I loved the world…. the worlds? I loved the premise of the whole thing, and I just want more! There is an incredible sadness that permeates the whole story – not unlike childhood. It’s a weird in-between place where you don’t have any agency, but you are experiencing all this life-changing stuff. There were also moments of pure joy and fun… like childhood is supposed to be. I’m not sure how I feel about the end, and that is totally ok with me. It felt right but it still made me really sad. I also had the feeling that most of these worlds were kind of awful, in their way. Most people, when playing that “what fantasy world would you like to visit?” point out that all of them sound pretty awful. That doesn’t make me want to go to Rivendell any less. If you are called to a world that speaks to your soul and are suddenly chucked out, by circumstance or mishap, I’m guessing you would still want to return.