My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this book so much, I went back to reread Every Heart a Doorway so I could meet Jack and Jill again, and better understand their choices in the context of where they'd come from. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a prequel that gives a lot of strong hints about who they become in Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. I suggest reading them in order of publication.
Jacqueline and Jillian Wolcott are twins born to parents who had no business having children. The chaos of childhood and figuring out who you are in the world has no place in Serena and Chester Wolcott's well-ordered life. They initially foist the children off on their grandmother, but, on the girls' fifth birthday, the parents send the grandmother away without even giving her a chance to say goodbye. Jillian, the more rough-and-tumble of the two, is assigned the role of tomboy, while Jacqueline is dressed up in frilly, pretty dresses and admonished to keep herself clean.
Then, when the girls are twelve, they open a trunk their grandmother left behind to find not dress-up clothes, but a stairway going down into unknown depths. From there, they wind up on the Moors, where they're free to choose their own paths for the first time in their lives. Jill (which her parents always balked at calling her) chooses to become the coddled pet of a vampire, who dresses her up in pretty clothes and keeps her well-fed on an iron-rich diet. Jack chooses to apprentice to a mad scientist, where she eschews skirts and learns how to keep immaculately clean without running water, among other useful skills.
Jack and Jill each find love, out there on the Moors, but it's their love for each other that ties this story together. The book captures the double-edged nature of sibling love well. The girls know each other so well, which means they know exactly how to hurt one another.
This is a well-crafted tale, dark and poetic and utterly tragic. It's a novella, but there's a lot in there. I read most of it waiting in a hot car with the windows cracked. It was startling, emerging from that dark, cool world into the blazing heat, sticky and dying of thirst.
Be sure you want to know what made the twins who they are in Every Heart a Doorway. Be sure you want to go into the Moors with them. Be sure you want to know the consequences of the first choices Jack and Jill make.
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