It’s late afternoon on the last day of the Christmas Break. I spent the earlier part of the day trying to get every last little thing done before returning to work tomorrow and I can finally sit down with a steaming cup of herbal tea to write a quick post giving the highlights from my book club meeting.
My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow. Set in the early 1900s, this novel tells the story of a girl named January Scaller who has been raised by her absentee father Julian and her benefactor Mr Locke. Her father travels around the world to find/take/steal precious items, the rarer, the better, and bring them back to Locke, who is a collector and a member of the New England Archeological Society. January, who refers to herself as an "in-between" girl because of the in-between colour of her skin, often travels with Locke to exotic or cultured locales, where she sometimes wanders off and finds herself in difficult situations, but she always returns to Mr Locke. As she grows older, she wants more from her life than being another of the items Locke has collected, and when she learns that her father is presumed dead, she finds herself at loose ends. But once, when she was younger, she thought she saw a door in a field that led to another world, and she’s discovered a book called Ten Thousand Doors, which talks of doors leading to other worlds, worlds where her parents met and where there is a possibility that they still are, lost and searching for each other and for her. She yearns to find that door again, and after some unfortunate events, heads out to do just that. The things she discovers along the way frighten her and test her to the limit, while also forcing her to leave behind her childhood and embrace the challenges of adulthood. She has some help along the way, from her trusted dog to her carer and also her childhood sweetheart, but it is clear that she is the hero of this story, she who must fight the villains and find a way to save the worlds and the doors from sure destruction while also searching for her lost parents. This book was a bit of a YA crossover, and perhaps young adult readers might have enjoyed it a bit more than my book club members. We had a small group yesterday, only two who could make it, but we also had a new member join us. One member listened to it and didn’t like it, but thought that perhaps it was because of the way the narrator read the story. The other member didn’t love it, and hadn’t finished it yet. I read it and liked it, although I agree with the others who also found it fairly confusing, not totally believable and over-long. I think the premise was a good one, and with some additional editing it could have been a really great story. It is part of a genre I didn’t know about, “portal fantasy”, which makes sense, as every door you go through is a portal into another world, another language and another time. I liked that there were many strong female characters, that it addressed race, class and sexual discrimination, and that it was a fairy tale and a love story while also being an interesting adventure story. It was also a literary mystery and a love letter to the power of books, words and language, and some of Harrow's descriptions were breathtaking, her wordplay brilliant. It reminded me of another book I read, The Hazel Woods by Melissa Albert, a book I have in my YA collection at school that I really enjoyed. I’m glad I read it, but our new member decided, based on our discussion, that she would probably skip it and just move on to our February selection.
That’s all for today. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon!
Bye for now… Julie