I came across “Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All” as I was reading through the National Book Award winners. “Thirteen Doorways” was nominated for best young adult. The story is set in the late 1930’s as the Depression era gives way to WWII. Frankie, the protagonist of the tale, is in an orphanage with her two siblings in Chicago. What was immediately odd for me was the fact that the children weren’t actually orphaned. Apparently during The Depression, families who couldn’t afford to keep their children at home would often take them to private orphanages in order for the children to be feed and clothed. Another detail that piqued my interest is the fact that this story is narrated by a ghost.
I’m not a fan of ghost stories so I was expecting to be put off by the ghost narrator. However, instead of being a ghost for a spooky element or to develop an atmosphere of horror, we soon learn from the narrator how she became a ghost and what life was like for her as an heiress to a wealthy White family on Chicago’s Northside. She soon meets a fellow haunt in the library, a young Black woman who has an interesting backstory of her own.
With Frankie’s and the ghosts’ stories, we get a full picture of life throughout the 1900s, especially for women and women of color. That’s where the title comes in. The ghosts and Frankie all realize that for them to achieve their dreams they’re going to have to open a lot of doors and there are figurative wolves behind them all.
I think this would be a good read for an American Literature or U.S. History course. It’s a quick read and the historical details are fascinating. I appreciate that the author told us the stories of women and women of color who are almost non-existent in our textbooks and should be better represented because their stories are just as valid as anyone else’s. This book is also a good jumping off point to discuss how things change in society from the early 1900s, to the 1940s, and to today. It would be interesting to hear how people think things have progressed, or not, since then.