Book: “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” by Seanan McGuire
Publishing Info: Tor, June 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description: Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
This is the story of what happened first…
Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.
Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.
They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.
They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.
Review: Last year’s “Every Heart a Doorway” , aYA fantasy novella by Seanan McGuire, completely took me by surprise. It asks the important, but rarely asked, question: what happens when these special, chosen children return from their adventures in other worlds? In that book, we met Jack and Jill, twin girls who had spent years in their own magical land. Like many others at the school, they each had their own struggles adjusting to life back in this reality. Here, we have their back story. And, while I still love the creativity of this series, the fact that I knew the end story for these two did affect my perception of this story. It’s purely a personal problem, however, so all in all, this is a strong second outing for this series.
Like most children who wander into strange worlds, Jack and Jill don’t quite fit into the reality that they were born, too. Their mother, Serena (oh no!) makes a princess out of Jill, and their father, Chester, attempts to turn Jack into the son he wished he had. Growing up within these strict definitions that were chosen for them, it’s no surprise that when they discover a doorway in their attic, they choose to walk forward. The world that awaits is filled with monsters, science, and chaos. But perhaps most frightening and thrilling of all: choices. For two girls who have been told who they are since birth, this new found ability to decide offers temptations and dangers.
The greatest strength of “Every Heart a Doorway” was the clear-eyed approach it took on childhood. It’s all too easy to wrap up childhood in fluffy dreams of nostalgia, to wave away the worries and pains of childhood as nothing more than immaturity. This strength comes to the forefront in this book, a story that is even darker than the original novella. Jack and Jill’s childhood until age 12 in “reality” is one full of struggle against the various constraints of gender. I greatly appreciated the fact that both definitions, the “princess” and the “tomboy” are shown equally for the damages they can inflict. They both demonize a type of behavior in girls in lieu of presenting the “one true way.” It is made clear that the strictness of both and the lack of flexibility in the definition of “girlhood” is the root of the problem with either perception.
I also greatly enjoyed the time spent in the fantasy world, obviously. This world is dark, scary, and the choices presented to the girls have real consequences. As we saw in the first book, both girls are changed by their time in this world, and it was fascinating watching them each slowly develop into the characters we are familiar with from the first book.
This, however, was also where I found myself struggling with this book. I like darkness in my fantasy novels, but I do struggle to fully enjoy stories that end on this same dark note. I think the fact that I knew the events that took place in “Every Heart a Doorway” before reading this colored my perception of certain things and prevented me from fully committing to both of the main characters. I felt like I was almost keeping the story at a distance, because I knew not to get too attached. This is clearly a very personal flaw with the story and one that’s completely tied up in my own reading experience, so take it with a million grains of salt. Because, even saying that, knowing the end result also kept me interested as the girls transformed into the characters I knew, as I said before.
This was a solid second outing in this novella series. I believe there is a third, “Beneath the Sugar Sky,” in line to be published this coming January, and I will definitely be at the front of the line to get my hands on it! Definitely check this book out if you’re a fan of dark fantasy, especially of the classic monster variety!
Rating 7: An excellent dark, fantasy story, both benefiting and, for me, suffering from the fact that we had already been introduced to these characters in the first book in the series.
Find “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” at your library using WorldCat!