Since the fourth book in The Wayward Children series was published on Tuesday, I thought it was high time I shared my review of the books.
“You’re nobody’s rainbow.
You’re nobody’s princess.
You’re nobody’s doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”
― Seanan McGuire , Every Heart a Doorway
These books are for every person who ever felt too weird, too different, or too out of place in our world. For every kid who read about Narnia, Wonderland, Neverland, and Hogwarts and thought, “yeah, there’s where I would fit in.”
They’re for the adults who are still waiting to recapture some of the same magic that they found one afternoon in a backyard with their friends. That doorway to another world…
I remember one summer when I was living on Euclid Avenue, my two best friends lived in a house behind me. One of them went off to visit relatives for the summer, and the other girl and I wandered around in our shared backyard every day. For hours and hours we searched for the magic balls left by the sorcerer king. We knew that there were five balls, each of a different color, each vitally important to the functioning of the world. We knew that if we found one of them, we’d be able to persuade the sorcerer king to give us what we wanted. If we could manage to find two, we would become part of his court. We’d be taken away to a kingdom where we could learn and play, no one would make us clean up our messes, we could get as dirty as we wanted, and no one would get mad at us if we threw rocks (or harsh words) at stupid boys. We never managed to find those magical spheres, but as the summer drew to a close, we knew that we had completed our most sacred quest. Sure, we were only five, but we’d done everything we could.
You could no more have told me that those magical spheres were make believe than you could’ve convinced me that grass I played on every day wasn’t green. That incredible belief, that dedication to a world that we built ourselves, was something that I wish I’d been able to hold onto into adulthood.
My friends from 8th grade will tell you, I was OBSESSED with Peter Pan. Or, more accurately, I was obsessed with what the story really meant. See, I realized what the filmmakers of the 2003 version were saying when they cast the same man to play Hook and Mr. Darling – they were echoing what Barrie himself wrote, even if I couldn’t see it myself when I read the story. The real pressures that Wendy Darling felt didn’t come from outside forces in Neverland; she felt compelled to grow up because of what her family, her social circle, and the world expected of her. When she chose to leave Peter and the Lost Boys, she was making a conscious decision to grow up. A choice that would force her to leave behind the world of mermaids and sword battles. I saw some of myself in her, even when I was thirteen.
We all lose some of ourselves as we pass into adulthood – the playfulness, the freedom – Because even though children –and their friends from other worlds – may believe as many as “six impossible things before breakfast,” believing one impossible thing often seems quite, well, impossible for grownups.
But I think that is why these books are so special.
Seanan McGuire does an incredible job of capturing what is like to be an adult who knows they have been robbed of something integral by crossing over into adulthood. The adults who read her stories have shed their childish skins, never able to return to the palaces that they were once able to dream up out of thin air. McGuire has a remarkable ability to acknowledge this loss– the gut-wrenching pain of it–without losing the wonder and joyfulness of the invisible worlds.
She manages to craft her stories in such a way that you feel a yearning for what the travelers have lost, while still longing to hear about their adventures. She gives voice to all of the impossible things, makes them possible, even probable, and thus restores her readers, for at least the time when they dwell within the pages of a Wayward Children book, to the invisible worlds “from which they thought they would be forever barred.”
“Children have always tumbled down rabbit holes, fallen through mirrors, been swept away by unseasonal floods or carried off by tornadoes. Children have always traveled, and because they are young and bright and full of contradictions, they haven’t always restricted their travel to the possible. Adulthood brings limitations like gravity and linear space and the idea that bedtime is a real thing, and not an artificially imposed curfew. Adults can still tumble down rabbit holes and into enchanted wardrobes, but it happens less and less with every year they live. Maybe this is a natural consequence of living in a world where being careful is a necessary survival trait, where logic wears away the potential for something bigger and better than the obvious. Childhood melts, and flights of fancy are replaced by rules. Tornados kill people: they don’t carry them off to magical worlds. Talking foxes are a sign of fever, not guides sent to start some grand adventure.
But children, ah, children. Children follow the foxes, and open the wardrobes, and peek beneath the bridge. Children climb the walls and fall down the wells and run the razor’s edge of possibility until sometimes, just sometimes, the possible surrenders and shows them the way to go home.”
― Seanan McGuire, Beneath the Sugar Sky