I recently managed to borrow Seanan McGuire’s fifth Wayward Children book from the library, just as the sixth volume was released, and library patrons piled on to the waiting list like the pigeons that once mobbed me in the Piazza San Marco. I don’t want to wait! Does first come first served really make sense in this situation? Or shouldn’t the line be ordered with those of us who fit in the least going first? No? Oh, well. Maybe this is a Logic world after all.
The Wayward Children books posit the following: that if a child truly, pathologically, does not belong in this world, then a doorway will open to a world where that child might belong. And if that world spits the child back out as a teen, possibly as a test, that teen will want nothing, nothing, nothing so much as to find the door that will lead them back home. The books are short and scary and sour and bitter and sweet, like a good cup of coffee. Don’t expect a Disney world or even an original-Alice one found through the looking glass. These worlds are much too bizarre for most of us to fantasize about visiting, let alone moving in. And these books are filled with nuggets of wisdom, not just about belonging, but about loving, living, and everything else.
The first book, Every Heart a Doorway, is a revelation. I didn’t know a story of a hundred or so pages could be so deliberate and word-perfect, like a poem. The characterization is exquisitely precise. In fact, it’s the characters, more than the worlds, that I’m a little bit disturbed by even as I love them (and I’m not talking about the ones who’ve been brought back from the dead, either). Let’s just say it’s the trans boy Kade (nothing disturbing about that — and if you disagree you can just leave now and we won’t miss you) who fits in our world the best. Think about that for a moment, given the prejudice trans people are facing in some communities today.
In the fifth book, Come Tumbling Down, I especially like the portrayal of Jack (Jacqueline)’s lover Alexis, whose body, thanks to various magical circumstances I’m not going to spoil for you, isn’t working very well at the moment. As soon as she tells Kade, “the fact that I’ve been damaged doesn’t make me broken, and you don’t need to behave as if it does,” I start to read her as a disabled person like me. I’m not sure if this is deliberate, or only a function of us humans seeing the world each through our own distorting prism, but let’s accept the analogy. Since I see her as disabled, it makes me very happy when she breaks the rules of the only acceptable public narrative for disabled people (“I can do everything you can do”) by admitting what she can’t do a chapter or so later. Many disabled people can do anything an abled person can do. But many of us can’t. So our narrative is, “I am worth as much as you, even though I can’t do everything you can do.” But no one puts that on the kind of motivational posters hung outside a college’s accommodations office. In this society, we judge people by what they do. We define people by what they do. It’s so much easier than defining them by who they are. I’ve heard the encouraging, “You can do anything,” and I’ve heard the discouraging, “You don’t contribute anything,” many, many, many times each. It’s a much rarer and more precious gift to hear someone say, “You can’t do everything, but that doesn’t mean you’re broken.” Thanks for that, Seanan.