Before twin sisters Jack and Jill found Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, they descended an impossible staircase into a trunk in an unused room of their house. In a world of magic, monsters, and mad scientists, the sisters become what their parents forbade. Jacqueline leaves behind her polite and quiet princess persona to become a scientist’s apprentice and learn how to raise the dead. Jillian lavishes in a castle pining after her vampire master and wearing flowing dresses instead of performing the role of an adventurous tomboy for her father.
Part of what makes Jack and Jill’s adventure so rewarding is the life they lead before the staircase. Their parents are uncomfortably terrible people, who have children because of peer pressure and a desire for normalcy. Those same desires lead them to push the daughters they can’t even tell apart into strict and polar gender roles. The sisters find out only later that there’s no one way to be a girl. The lives they choose to live in their magical world and the young women they choose to become grow out of their highly restricted childhood.
Dark and eerie, this gothic fairytale is so magical and lovely, and a perfect deep dive into one of the worlds mentioned in its predecessor Every Heart a Doorway.
“I could give you children,” said Jack, sounding faintly affronted. “You’d have to tell me how many heads you wanted them to have, and what species you’d like them to be, but what’s the point of having all these graveyards if I can’t give you children when you ask for them?”