A fantasy novella. First story in the Wayward Children series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 156

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a place for kids who have run away and returned changed can go to get counseling and hopefully return happy and same as before. Or that’s the hope of the parents who send their kids there. But most kids aren’t fixed or healed.

Because they’ve had such a profound experience that they can’t return to their former selves, just like adults can’t (and don’t want to) become the children they used to be. These children have not run away, they’ve gone to another world which became home to them and changed them. They’ve stayed in their worlds for years but grown but returned as kids. And the adults can’t understand that. Or won’t. So, the kids are labeled as crazy. Eleanor tries to get these kids under her wing to a school where they don’t have to hide their experiences or hopes of returning to that true home.

Nancy is the newest kid. Before she went through a doorway, she wore bright cloths, ran around, and laughed a lot. Then she went to the Hall of the Dead where she learned to be very, very still to please the Lord of the Dead whom she adores (not in a sexual way, though). Bright colors could be earned but Nancy hadn’t earned them, yet. So, she wears just black and white. Her parents didn’t understand it at all. So, they sent her to Eleanor’s.
Everything is new for Nancy, including the way that the kids and the teachers talk about the worlds. Some are high Logic, others high Nonsense. All of the kids want to go back, they don’t want to stay in reality but most of them realize that they might have to.

This is a weird book, horrible and wonderful at the same time. It’s not children’s story, at all, even though most of the characters are teenagers. It’s also not an adventure story, more like a snapshot of Nancy’s life for a few weeks. There is a mystery to uncover but’s not the main thing and I think it’s too easy for mystery readers to solve. I don’t usually like horror but this had just enough horror elements not to bother me.
I really liked the characters: Eleanor herself has gone to a high Nonsense world. She looks like she’s in her sixties but it older. Nancy’s roommate Sumi has also gone to a high Nonsense world and prefers to use windows rather than doors. She’s talks a lot and is pretty blunt. Kade is the keeper of wardrobe. Then there’s are the “creepy twins” Jake and Jill who went into a world that was similar to a horror movie. Jill was the vampire lord’s apprentice while Jake got to be the mad scientist’s apprentice. I also really liked the setting and a sequel is already out! Apparently it centers on Jack and Jill.

Even though the kids have had really strange and different experiences, this is still a school and they form groups and bully each other. That was one of the things I really disliked but I guess it comes naturally to kids. It’s the adults’ job to teach them better. I’m also not too sure if I liked how they reacted to the mystery part.

Many of the characters are not standard, which I found really refreshing. Nancy, for example, is asexual, one of the characters is a trans boy, and many are people of color.

Most of the kids at the school are girls. Nancy asks about that and is given an explanation:

“Because ‘boys will be boys’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Lundy. “They’re too loud, on the whole, to be easily misplaced or overlooked; when they disappear from the home, parents send search parties to dredge them out of swamps and drag them away from frog ponds. It’s not innate. It’s learned. But it protects them from the doors, keeps them safe at home. Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.”