Review of Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
by Laura Ruby
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    367 pp.
10/19    978-0-06-231764-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-231766-7    $10.99

At first, this seems to be the story of Frankie, a girl in a Catholic orphanage in Chicago in the 1940s. She and her sister and brother are abandoned there when her father remarries, and Frankie suffers under the nuns’ regime, but she also makes friends, grows up, and, eventually, falls into forbidden, passionate love—a relationship that America’s entry into World War II puts in jeopardy. But Frankie’s story is just one thread in a more expansive tale, that of the ghostly narrator Pearl, who observes Frankie but also tells us of her own doings as she floats around Chicago. In tiny increments, she reveals her dreadful history; the novel is as much about her spiritual healing as it is about Frankie’s coming of age. Pearl’s world-weary wisdom and moral outrage come through clearly as she interacts with other ghosts—victims of America’s misogyny, racism, and social and economic inequities. In addition, Pearl seems to have unusual access to information: about the atomic bomb, Nazi death camps, and more. The story’s momentum, logic, and focus thus wobble a bit, but Ruby’s message is clear: America is a precarious and threatening place, dealing as much in cruelty and injustice as it does in fulfilled dreams of family, love, and security.

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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