“Down, down, down they went, two little girls who couldn’t have been more different, or more the same. They wore the same face; they viewed the world through the same eyes, blue as the sky after a storm.” (51)
5/5 – I’m not sure why this review is so hard for me to write and I don’t know if this will do it justice. At least I’ve been avoiding it for the past few days even though I knew it was going to be five stars early on. I absolutely loved this book, but I’m not sure how to talk about it. At least I don’t want to come off as if I don’t know what I’m talking about, but this review is mine and my own so I need to suck it up.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second book in the Wayward Children series, but it is a prequel to Every Heart a Doorway which I read a few months back. Down Among the Sticks and Bones follow Jack and Jill as they enter their world, called The Moors which is filled with supernatural creatures like vampires and werewolves, and then subsequently end up back in our world. If you aren’t familiar with this series the premise is about children who fall into portal worlds, like Alice in Wonderland or Narnia, and then get spit back out into the real world. In most cases, they don’t want to return to the real world because they didn’t fit in, in the first place. From the very beginning of Down Among the Sticks and Bones, you understand that Jack and Jill don’t belong in our world. Why is that? Because their parents are awful. I’m serious. They aren’t abusive, instead they refuse to let their children find out who they are and let them be who they want. They force both Jacqueline and Jillian into strict gender roles so that they can get the admiration of their peers.
When I was young, from infancy to about age 4 or 5, my mom loved dressing me up. She made me wear cute dresses and little adorable shoes, she’d style my curly hair, and it was all fine. At some point, she realized that I hated wearing dresses and stopped making me. I wore boys shirts and jeans and wore baseball caps. Even to this day, I won’t wear a dress. I wear jeans nearly every day and it usually is accompanied by a t-shirt. I’m very simple when it comes to clothing. I also was able to explore what I liked and what I didn’t. I played with cars, video games, and other things that traditionally boys played with. I’m not a parent, but I believe it is very important to not shove children into boxes. They will rebel. That’s exactly what happened in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Jacqueline, the perfect princess became Jack who made and wore men’s clothing. Then Jillian who was the rough tomboy became Jill who loved having long hair and fancy dresses. Self-expression says a lot about who we are and to stifle that can be crushing and can ultimately have negative effects especially if done at a young age.
The writing in this book is stunning, it’s very lyrical and poetic and contains some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read. Some of the phrases in the book repeat, just like as if each paragraph was a different stanza in a poem. The narrator of the book is a character on their own, just like Death in The Book Thief, but this one is unnamed and omniscient. They break the fourth wall and talk directly to us multiple times and their sarcasm comes through in certain passages. I bet this book is great on audiobook.
If you haven’t read Every Heart a Doorway or didn’t like it, I’d still say give Down Among the Sticks and Bones a shot. It’s a fascinating commentary on gender roles and parenting, but also a tragic story about the relationship between two twins as they are separated. They end up finally being comfortable in themselves, but their relationship to each other is strained. Unlike with Every Heart a Doorway, when I struggled to connect with Nancy, this didn’t happen in this book. I also wasn’t left wanting more at the end of this book. Sometimes 200 something pages is all you need to take someone to another world.
Also, since you are probably wondering, yes one of the characters is a lesbian.