This is the second novella in the Wayward Children series, and I was slightly surprised with the topic. The first novella was about a boarding school for children who return from magical worlds reached by cupboards and secret passages, and are having trouble adjusting to life back home because they want to go back. I expected that the second novella would be more adventures at the boarding school, or possibly explore the idea of other schools. After all, this is for children that want to go back to their magical worlds, as violent or chaotic as they may have been, because they make more sense and have finally provided the children something they were missing in their real lives. The first novella even suggested there might be one for children that need help because they are so scarred by what happened to them. Instead, this novella takes the twins of the first novella, and fleshes out the back story alluded to in Every Heart a Doorway.
Jack (Jaqueline) and Jill (Jillian) Wolcott’s parents were people that never should have had children. They were enraptured by the image of children based on the interactions they had with other people’s children, times when those children were picture perfect and on their best behavior. As a result, when they have their own children, they quickly pigeonhole them into their roles, with no true understanding of their daughters. Jack is analytical and quiet because she likes to observe and make judgments based on that; her parents interpret this as shyness and timidness, thus thrusting her into the position of the girly girl, forced to wear dresses at all times. Jill is given the role of tom-boy and athlete. The only real and unconditional love the children experience is from their grandmother who acts as a live in nanny, and the Wolcotts decide she has served her purpose and coddled the children too much when the girls are 5.
Due to their upbringing, the girls never form much of a bond, restricted as they are from even showing an interest in anything that is deemed the other girl’s area. When they find a passage to another world, they follow it, and due to some underlying resentments, they end up separated, not trusting each other. Of course, there are also the politics of their new world, and each has to choose a different master, which is how Jack ends up as a mad scientist in Every Heart a Doorway while Jill is the feminine one with a disturbing interest in blood.
McGuire explores the girls growing up in their new harsh world, where one serves a master that gives her independence and freedom while the other is taught to rely purely on the master she serves. However, no matter how content the girls may be with their respective lots, a dark shadow looms over the village, eventually leading to the events that cause the twins’ expulsion.
I didn’t think I would want to know more about Jack and Jill’s background, assuming it had been explained enough in the first novella, but this was naturally another well written McGuire story. However, I’m definitely hoping to explore more of the boarding school to see what other kinds of worlds the wayward children came from, even if it is only explained in short descriptions rather than a whole novella.