I love when I start a new year, new month, new day and get to spend it reading and finishing a book. It feels fresh and I feel alive and ready to tackle anything! And with the newest novella from Seanan McGuire, I was in for such a treat because we find out more in the Wayward Children series than we did before! Thanks to Tor Dot Com for sending me a gifted copy of this book.
CW: fatphobia/shaming, bullying, self harm, discussion of suicide
Welcome to the Whitethorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help, and you’ve already taken that step by requesting a transfer into our company.
There is another school for children who fall through doors and fall back out again.
It isn’t as friendly as Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
And it isn’t as safe.
When Eleanor West decided to open her school, her sanctuary, her Home for Wayward Children, she knew from the beginning that there would be children she couldn’t save; when Cora decides she needs a different direction, a different fate, a different prophecy, Miss West reluctantly agrees to transfer her to the other school, where things are run very differently by Whitethorn, the Headmaster.
She will soon discover that not all doors are welcoming…
Ok, this has to be my favorite of the series since the first book. Granted, I’ve only read a few books throughout this series (and plan to read them all), but this one has me very intrigued. That goes double since it doesn’t take place at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, but The Whitehorn Institute; the very antithesis of Eleanor’s school.
It starts off with Cora, a young person who’s brush with suicide sent her through a door to a world with mermaids. However, when she returned from her world, the last thing she wanted was to go back. And while she stayed at Eleanor’s school for a little while, she much rather go to The Whitehorn Institute; a school dedicated to rehabilitating its students from the worlds they visited and return them as regular citizens of society.
Most students admitted to the school are there against their will; young people whose parents didn’t know any better and wanted their children back to being the normal kids they were. And as Cora spends more time at the institute, she realizes that this place holds a power of its own against the students and matrons living there. When Cora discovers the darkness creeping in the shadows, she and her friends plan to escape leaving behind the notion that they need to fit into society and not the other way around.
I think one of the most fascinating parts of Seanan McGuire’s writing is how she incorporates themes and characterization into these novellas. Reading this short book, I know there are parts that could have been fleshed out and plot points that could have been explored more, but Seanan McGuire chose to represent these children more than push the plot and I always find that fascinating. What you get out of reading her books is more of a sense of who these children are and how they live their lives not only with the dissatisfaction of where they grew up, but also knowing that there’s a world out there that accepts and loves them for who they are.
It’s mentioned often throughout the story that these kids were heroes in the worlds they went to. They saved the day, they rose above and succeeded, they made a difference in a world that isn’t their own and that’s what gives them validity. And then they return to the real world with the disappointment of being themselves again and of course they’re going to have a hard time adjusting.
This particular story examines that and how being pushed to be average/normal in the real world is just as damaging as never being able to go back to the world where they were heroes. And I find that to be so fascinating. It’s almost like a social experiment where you see how young people cope with returning to a world where they don’t belong, but also having to be forced into a box they don’t fit into. It’s what draws me to Seanan McGuire’s books every single time.
One of the things that made me pause was that there were characters from the previous books in the series. In my haste to read the most recent book, I haven’t caught up with the rest of the series and I felt a little lost with who was who. It wasn’t too detrimental that you will feel the lost feeling as well, but it was enough for me to go and borrow the next book I need to read in the series.
It always excites me to read another journey through a door and this is no exception. I love the new direction this series is going and I can’t wait to read the next one.