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BOOK REVIEW: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

BOOK REVIEW: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Tor
July 2017
Hardcover, $26.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult/Speculative

9/10

This is the second book released in the series. While it is a prequel and takes place chronologically before the first book, it is highly recommended you read that book first. There are some spoilers.

My review for Every Heart a Doorway (book 1) can be found here.

 

This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them. A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really. It can be easy, when looking at children from the outside, to believe that they are things, dolls designed and programmed by their parents to behave in one manner, following one set of rules. It can be easy, when standing on the lofty shores of adulthood, not to remember that every adult was once a child, with ideas and ambitions of their own.

Chester and Serena Wolcott are the most unlikely people to decide to have children. It should come as no surprise, then, that they embarked on the venture for all the wrong reasons, with all the wrong images in mind of what life with children would be, and all the wrong rules set as absurd boundaries.

“Jack and Jill,” said the first nurse, with a smile. “Cute.”
“Jacqueline and Jillian,” corrected Chester frostily. “No daughter of mine will go by something as base and undignified as a nickname.”
The nurse’s smile faded. “Of course not,” she said, when what she really meant was “of course they will,” and “you’ll see soon enough.”

Jillian and Jacqueline’s parents are quick to pigeonhole them at the first sign of Jillian’s slightly boisterous inclination. Jillian must be the tomboy, and Jacqueline must be the girlie girl who loves dresses and hates mess.

This suits the parents well, Serena having desired a daughter she could dress up in pretty outfits and draw the envy of other mothers, Chester eager for a boy to encourage into sporting endeavours and brag about to his colleagues. But it doesn’t suit the girls, who begin to feel the pressures to keep up with these roles that were chosen for them.

Age six was kindergarten, where Jacqueline learned that little girls who wore frilly dresses every day were goody-goodies, not to be trusted, and Jillian learned that little girls who wore pants and ran around with the boys were weirdos and worse.

Jillian twisted in on herself, trying to figure out how she and her sister could share a face and a bedroom and a life, and still one of them was “the pretty one,” and the other one was just Jillian, unwanted and ignored and increasingly being pushed from the role of “tomboy” and into the role of “nerd.”

And, after the removal of the one positive role-model in their lives, the girls are shoved more and more securely into these roles they didn’t choose.

She had done her best. She had tried to encourage both girls to be themselves, and not to adhere to the rigid roles their parents were sketching a little more elaborately with every year. She had tried to make sure they knew that there were a hundred, a thousand, a million different ways to be a girl, and that all of them were valid, and that neither of them was doing anything wrong. She had tried.

It’s the loss of this positive role-model, and the fact that they’re stranded with two parents who really don’t know their own children, that leads the girls to find their doorway to another world. 

Had Gemma Lou been allowed to stay with them, they might have read more fairy tales, might have heard more stories about children who opened doors to one place and found themselves stepping through into another. Had they been allowed to grow according to their own paths, to follow their own interests, they might have met Alice, and Peter, and Dorothy, all the children who had strayed from the path and found themselves lost in someone else’s fairyland. 

And, perhaps more importantly, helps encourage them to take those fateful steps.

Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.
Other adventures must be committed to before they have even properly begun. How else will they know the worthy from the unworthy, if they do not require a certain amount of effort on the part of the ones who would undertake them? Some adventures are cruel, because it is the only way they know to be kind.

 

 

As in Every Heart a Doorway, this is a story about kids who don’t fit the mould.

Society (or family) expects them to behave in a certain way, and enjoy certain approved activities but, as with all of McGuire’s Wayward Children, they eventually reach a point of rebellion, and of needing to search for their desires. Perhaps this is due to a build-up of the oppression, perhaps it is due to their wandering through a door to elsewhere, but most likely it is a combination of these two, and one begets the other. 

The door would not appear without said oppression, and they would not have ventured through the door, even if it had somehow come about another way, without that deep-seated desire to get out from under the thumb.

This is a challenging of gender roles, and of stereotyping and pigeonholing in general. But it’s also a Seanan McGuire story, which means there is a certain amount of misfortune and doom, and it’s just delicious.

There is heartache and pain, balanced by something better. It wouldn’t be right to call it joy, because it’s more substantial than that. Readers are witness to the foreboding and the sad or worrying events, but they also feel as though their involved in any triumphs the girls make in the course of their journey.

As mentioned previously, this is a prequel to Every Heart a Doorway, and should not be read first because of spoilers, but reading it with enough time in between to forget some of the little details was a nice way to read this without already having something of a good idea of where the bodies are buried…

Can we please have one of these books a year (at least) for ever?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

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