BWW Review: WAYWARD CHILDREN Series By Seanan McGuire
"You're nobody's doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you."
~EVERY HEART A DOORWAY
This month, I blew through Seanan Maguire's Wayward Children series. Before this year, I had heard of them, and the author was already one I wanted to read someday, but it wasn't directly on my radar. This past January, the first book in the series, EVERY HEART A DOORWAY, was on sale as an e-book. I downloaded and read the free sample and realized I was going to be obsessed with the series and would need to own a physical copies to add to my "fairy tale-inspired" shelf. It has taken me all the way until now to have time read the books, but I blew through all four in a week and am already excited for more books.
The Wayward Children books don't necessarily have to be read in order, since each features a different protagonist, but I highly recommend at least reading EVERY HEART A DOORWAY first because it sets the world and reality and introduces the characters of Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. Think about Dorothy when she returns from Oz, Alice when she comes back from Wonderland, the Pevensie siblings, who returned to Narnia on multiple occasions. Think about kids who go to amazing worlds and have incredible adventures. What happens when they return home? What happens when nobody believes them? Are they crazy? What if our world is no longer enough, but they can't return where they belong?
Eleanor West was herself a wayward child with adventures of her own. Her Door is closed to her now, but her adventures forever changed her. She has opened a school for children like herself. She tells parents that she will save their children. When the children come, however, they find a safe haven. They may never forget. They know they're not crazy. Among others who believe them, maybe they have a chance to move on and learn how to acclimate to the world they were born into. Very few every find their way back to the world they discovered again, but they all hope to.
The first book, EVERY HEART A DOORWAY, revolves around the school and the students in it. Different realities that they discovered are mentioned in passing. The first book is different in tone from the rest of the series. It is more of a mystery; students are being murdered and body parts are being taken to build...what? And why is it children who have been to other worlds? And why is it the part of them most important to who they are? The next book, DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, is more of a prequel and follows twin sisters Jack and Jill as they discover the Moors, a dark, dangerous world very different from our own. The third book, BENEATH THE SUGAR SKY, takes place after the first book and begins at the school and reintroduces us to a few students, then takes everyone on an adventure through multiple worlds--some of which are too spoilery to mention here--before winding up on an adventure in the realm of Confection. This book also reveals the origin of some alternate realities but again, it's spoilery to talk too much about it! That theme is mentioned a bit in the next book as well. The newest book in the series, IN AN ABSENT DREAM, comes out on January 8th from Tor Books, and I'll talk about it in more detail come January. But it once again takes place before the first book, exploring the world of a young girl named Katherine Lundy who encounters a Goblin Market and makes a decision that will fundamentally change her life forever.
I really like the mix of past and future in these books. I love that two and a half of the books take place in another realm and feature "portal children." The books really come alive as readers explore these new worlds so different from their own. I think of all the worlds, Confection was the most visual and enchanting, though I was most immersed in Katherine Lundy's story. I love that we get to explore all of these worlds, and I think it's so intriguing to also see a study of what happens when kids return to our reality and can no longer adapt. They have changed, they are different, they have grown up and loved. Sometimes they return home the moment they left, others, time passes. It's almost impossible to readapt. I'm pretty squeamish, so I was a little taken back by the grotesque murders of the first books, but the story came together and made sense, and the rest of the books were more in line with what I was expecting. I love that we go back and forth, and that the students--and teachers!--we meet early on will eventually get their own stories. I would love a story featuring Kade, and I really want one that explores Eleanor West's own past.
The series is full of gorgeous sentences I wanted to hug and mark. There are also charming illustrations in the books from time to time that I've never seen in an adult novel, but often see in fairy tales, and added to the atmosphere. Impressively, the first two books have won back-to-back Alex Awards for their crossover appeal to teens as well as critical acclaim and are only gaining in popularity. There is also great diversity in the series. Some of them are central issues dealing with love interests or weight issues. Others are secondary characters, such as Kade, who is trans, and even a character encountered for only minutes who is Muslim. I love that there are so many types of people having adventures and that these worlds don't just open for one group of people.
I'm really glad I discovered the Wayward Children series and am already excited to hear more about 2020's COME TUMBLING DOWN. Who will be the star? Will it be another portal story, or are we going back to our reality again? With a title like that, are we going to do more with Jack and Jill again? I can't wait to learn more!
EVERY HEART A DOORWAY, DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, and BENEATH THE SUGAR SKY are available now from Tor Books. IN AN ABSENT DREAM will publish January 8, 2019.