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.
I received an eARC from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
When I listened to the audiobook for Every Heart a Doorway earlier this year, I fell in love with the idea of taking an idea we were all familiar with (children venturing to other worlds by going through doors) and showing their aftermath. In contrast, Down Among Sticks and Bones offers a ‘prequel’, if you will, to Every Heart a Doorway. Rather than the aftermath, we see the making.
Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.
Down Among Sticks and Bones centers on twins Jacqueline and Jillian, or Jack and Jill. The story begins before they are born; we see Jack and Jill’s parents, the sort of people they were, illustrating that, maybe, our destinies are in the making before it is ever in our hands. Through their upbringing, we witness their childhood and how their parents imposed strict gender roles for their own selfish desires and dreams and largely at Jack and Jill’s expense. (A reoccurring theme in the first half of the book is that adults cannot be trusted. And indeed, they cannot.) At this, Down Among Sticks and Bones briefly explores the harm that parents can unwittingly cause; it is a narrative that is not new but is still all the more heartbreaking. But, that is, until they discover a door.
When reading Every Heart a Doorway, I was curious about the adventure of discovering a door and the process of making a home within the world on the other side. Down Among Sticks and Bones satiated my curiosity, and there was no better world than The Moors, an unforgiving, brutal, and monstrous place. The worldbuilding was fantastic – not only in its construction, but also in its impact on the reader. Being in the Moors, or, reading about Jack and Jill in The Moors, elicited a perpetual sense of dread and promises of foreboding. In such a cold and horrifying place, it may seem strange that Jack and Jill carve a corner of this world for themselves. Did The Moors make Jack and Jill for who they would become, or were they fulfilling their destinies?
The Moors exist in eternal twilight, in the pause between the lightning strike and the resurrection. They are a place of endless scientific experimentation, of monstrous beauty, and of terrible consequences.
Indeed, it is presumably a scary place for children, but it is within the Moors that Jacqueline becomes Jack and Jill becomes Jillian. Reading this, I couldn’t decide whether it was a cruel twist of fate or irony: two children who have been forced into rigid squares of what it means to be, only to discover a place where they can live the life they want, and in ways that were unexpected but also made complete sense. Suffice it to say, the characterizations of the story were fantastic. Despite the story’s short length, McGuire’s characters may seem like caricatures – the ‘mad scientist’, the evil vampire lord, the terrified townspeople. However, as the story progresses, each character reveals more of themselves beyond what is on the surface: that, despite the roles they place, the characters are capable of empathy, justice, betrayal, and love. You may not find thoroughly developed characters, with the exception of Jack, but you will find very interesting ones.
While Every Heart a Doorway was, at times, whimsical with hints of mystery and horror, Down Among Sticks and Bones is very dark, very brutal, and, in a way, very sad. Nonetheless, Down Among Sticks and Bones is a fantastic novella, a great addition to the Wayward Children series and universe, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend to those who enjoyed Every Heart a Doorway.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Twins enter through a mysterious door, and find themselves in a horror-esque place called The Moors.
Perfect for: Readers who enjoyed Every Heart a Doorway, enjoy horror, eerie stories, and whimsical storytelling.
Genre: Young adult, horror, paranormal-fantasy.
Trigger/content warnings: death, murder, blood mentions.
- Have you read Every Heart a Doorway, or Down Among Sticks and Bones? What did you think?
- Who was your favourite character and why?
- Would you rather your master be a vampire or a scientist?