BOOK REVIEW: Down Among The Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Title: Down Among The Sticks And Bones

Author: Seanan McGuire

Publisher: Tor.com

Published: 13 June 2017

RRP: £14.41

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.

 

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is part of the wonderful Wayward Children novella series, which explores what happens to children who return to our world after tumbling into magical kingdoms. However, it acts as a kind of prequel to the events of Every Heart a Doorway, so you don’t need to have read it first.

Long before being given shelter in Miss Eleanor’s Home for Wayward Children, we follow identical twin sisters Jack and Jill from before conception and into their childhoods. Born to rich, successful, narcissistic parents who want the trappings of being a rich, successful, picture perfect family, Jack and Jill are seen and treated only as accessories to their lifestyle rather than living beings. They are not loved by their parents; they exist only to gain approval from their parents’ social and work circles. It is no longer a surprise that they should have been sent to Miss Eleanor’s on their eventual return – their parents’ horror at what other people might think is all too easy to imagine.

Growing up, their parents force them into rigid gender moulds, with Jack turned into ultimate feminine stereotype and Jill the masculine. Despite both being ferociously intelligent, their own passions and interests are ignored. Their inability to develop and explore who they are as individuals stunts their personalities, their friendships, and most tragically of all, their relationship with each other. Forced into roles as polar opposites on a spectrum where choices are only ever black or white, they are pushed apart from each other.

Following a staircase which suddenly appears one day in the bottom of a departed relative’s suitcase, Jack and Jill find themselves not in Narnia, but on a dark and dangerous moor, where they are forced to choose between living with a vampire or working for a mad scientist. As damaged as they are already, it seems sadly appropriate that they stumble into such a broken world.

Their choices are driven by their desires to leave behind the artificial identities assigned to them at birth. Jack, sick of being confined to frilly dresses and valued for her appearance, chooses the scientist, while Jill, who has always dreamed of being a princess, chooses to stay with the vampire and the creature comforts his castle has to offer. Jack proves to be an excellent apprentice and even falls in love with a local girl from the village. Jill, meanwhile, becomes desperate to stay with her vampire forever. As the years pass, we see how their choices serve to increase the differences between them and act as a wedge, resulting in a bitter rivalry which ends in blood.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a beautifully written and very modern fairy tale, and like all the best fairy tales, it carries a warning message; however, unlike traditional fairy tales, this warning is not for children, but for their parents. To paraphrase an old saying, if you love your children, let them be who they are.
GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)

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