I adored this deliciously dark and whimsical novella, so much so that I became distraught when I finally realized it was a novella. I had not paced myself to slowly savor this story and I finished in about an hour. I could have spent a few years in this strange and enchanted land.
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.
The concept quickly had me in its thrall – children who fell through portals much as Alice fell through a rabbit hole have been returned to the real world of mothers and bedtimes and suburban rites. It isn’t hard to see why most of them cling to the belief that their portal will open again to Candyland or SparklePonyRainbowLand. It is a little harder to accept that some of them are longing for darker places. That is the case for the protagonist, who’s experience in the underworld has left her longing for shadowy, still places. I liked her from the start, and while I couldn’t quite buy into her delusion that Lord Death was waiting to bring her “home,” it wasn’t hard to feel empathy for her longing. She is framed as an outsider among outsiders, and that is very appealing to anyone who has ever felt like a fish out of water.
The plot centers around a mystery as strange and gory as any I’ve encountered, but it is tempered by the whimsy of the characters. I didn’t feel a lot of urgency to uncover the perpetrator, because I was having a bit of fun guessing the motive instead. I wasn’t fully satisfied with the resolution of the mystery because it just didn’t seem to be as elaborate as I thought it would be, but there is merit to the Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) line of reasoning, so, my bad.
I particularly enjoyed the fact that the characters are on the cusp between childhood and adulthood. It made for a nice metaphor about longing for those days all of us at some point realized we would never see again. I didn’t feel like this was a theme the author pushed, but I certainly delighted in the connection.
Overall, I thought this was a fun and enjoyable read. This author is a bit hit or miss for me, but Sparrow Hill Road and this little gem remind me how very awesome it is when this writer gets it very, very right. Fans of Tim Burton’s dark whimsy as well as readers who like their dark and light balanced on a knife’s edge will enjoy this novella. While the characters are young adults, this is a book written for adults. I think YA’s could enjoy it, but some of the language makes it more appropriate for mature readers.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.