“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.” (via Goodreads)
Finding yourself. That’s what Down Among the Sticks and Bones is all about. Jacqueline and Jillian’s parents try to trap them in amber. They have a very specific idea of what it means to be a daughter, a mother, a father. They live their lives strictly adhering to those rules, and force them upon their daughters. The girls cannot be who they want or wander down their own paths of self-discovery because that would pull them out of the box their parents have locked them inside.
And then the girls find a trunk in the attic. On the other side is a stairwell leading to a door. Through the door is the Moors, a gray, gothic world of mad scientists and supernatural monsters. As odd as it may seem, that harsh, terrible land offers them more than their pristine, perfect home. They shed their old names and old lives, with Jill becoming a vampire’s pet and Jack a scientist’s apprentice. Jill relishes the lavish attention the vampire pays her, as if making up for the years of parental neglect. Jack, on the other hand, abandons the frilly dresses her parents forced her to wear and takes to trousers and dirt and hard work like a fish to water.
The plot itself is fairly simple. Once in the Moors, the girls grow apart until they lead wholly separate lives. One girl commits a violent act that sets the townsfolk against her and the other sister comes to her aid. There’s a splash of adorable queer romance and a lot of spooky imagery. Jack and Jill learn what kind of people they want to be as opposed to who everyone else insists they become.
What turns the novella about the bonds of sisterhood and found families from straightforward to extraordinary is Seanan McGuire. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is hauntingly atmospheric. McGuire writes evocatively. She lures you in with elegant descriptions and eloquent narration. She builds the story around you brick by brick until you’re surrounded.
Although Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second in the Wayward Children series and features characters introduced in the first, it can be read out of sequence. Chronologically, the events of this story take place before Every Heart a Doorway, so there’s no worry of spoilers. Also worth pointing out that even though the protagonists are teenagers, this is definitely not a young adult series.
“Have you thought about names?” asked another, handing Serena the second infant.
“My mother’s name was Jacqueline,” said Serena cautiously, glancing at Chester. They had discussed names, naturally, one for a girl, one for a boy. They had never considered the need to name two girls.
“Our head partner’s wife is named Jillian,” said Chester. He could claim it was his mother’s name if he needed to. No one would know. No one would ever know.
“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.”
Serena and Chester Wolcott had fallen prey to the dangerous allure of other people’s children. They would learn the error of their ways soon enough. People like them always did.
Thanks to Tor.com Publishing for sending me a review copy.
Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or get it from your public library.