Like so many other children, Nancy found a door and disappeared. But now she’s back, and her parents insist she was kidnapped, and won’t hear any foolishness about a magical world of the dead with balls and dancing and pomegranate groves. So Nancy ends up under the care of Miss West at her special boarding school for wayward children and discovers that everyone she meets is also seeking a way back to their own fantasy worlds, whether by wardrobe or rabbit hole or well.
I almost passed on this book because of the sappy title, but it’s delightful! The premise is imaginative, and yet I’m surprised I haven’t seen it done before. Of course, any child who fell back out of the wardrobe or stepped back through the mirror would either need to forget about her adventure entirely in order to integrate back into our society, or desperately want to leave our world again. But thanks to Eleanor West, these kids have a way-station on the way back to their real home.
The actual plot revolves around a series of gruesome murders inside the school that begin soon after Nancy’s arrival, and the mystery is good fun but nothing special. Nancy makes friends with the outcasts of the school, as her time spent with Death makes her a better match for a vampire mistress, an evil scientist a la Frankenstein, and a boy who fell in love with the Skeleton Girl. Together they suffer the cruelty of being unpopular and feared in a school of kids who lived in Faery or Candyland. Refreshingly, the cast of characters features an asexual student and a transgender student, mentioned casually, and a female protagonist who isn’t looking for a boyfriend. And best of all, the story ends, without reference to impending sequels.
Recommended as a cute YA fantasy for anyone who dreams their Hogwarts letter may still yet arrive!
“For us, places we went were home. We didn’t care if they were good or evil or neutral or what. We cared about the fact that for the first time, we didn’t have to pretend to be something we weren’t. We just got to be. That made all the difference in the world.”