Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the second book in the Wayward Children series, but in terms of chronological order, it's a prequel to the first book, Every Heart a Doorway. This tells the backstory of the twins Jack and Jill, what made them the way they are, and why they would do anything to return to their alternate fantasy world.
There's some pretty potent themes in this book. McGuire takes on parenting and gender, and harshly condemns anyone trying to force children (or people in general) to be someone they are not. This is exactly what Jack and Jill's parents, Chester and Serena Wolcutt, do. These are two people who never should have had children. They basically each want a Mini-Me to show off to their friends, and they want their kids to fit into perfect rigid genderfied boxes. Jacqueline--never "Jack"--is the pink germophobic princess, terrified of dirt, forced to sit still and be gentle and feminine and quiet; and Jillian, the girl who, in her father's eyes, should have been a boy, is the rough-and-tumble tomboy forced into short haircuts and soccer leagues, regardless of whether she actually likes soccer. This suffocating existence lasts until the girls are twelve, when they discover a portal into their perfect fantasy world, the Moors. The Moors is a brutal, bloody place, full of vampires, monsters, werewolves, and Lovecraftian-style Drowned Gods, but it is where Jack and Jill break free from their boxes. They are adopted, respectively, by a mad scientist and a vampire, and spend the next five years becoming the people they were never allowed to be.
I actually liked this better than the first book in the series, Every Heart a Doorway. The plot is tight and streamlined--no unnecessary murder mystery. The omniscient narration could have been very off-putting in the hands of a less skilled writer, but it perfectly fits this creepy, claustrophobic story. The only (minor) disappointment is the bleak, abrupt, terrifying ending: terrifying because Jack and Jill have returned to our world, and the reader knows all too well they should not be there. This is an excellent series, and well worth your time.
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