By Heather A.
5 out of 5 stars ★★★ ★ ★
In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.
Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.
I received a copy of this book from a Goodreads giveaway.
I loved this book. It had everything I wanted and everything I didn’t know I wanted. I felt all the emotions of these characters. The exquisite and unique pain of losing your loved one to possible death across universes was relatable, somehow, and impossible to describe, yet the author did such an thoughtful job of piecing together these emotions. I’m getting ahead of myself!
One of the first scenes we get of the main character January is her running away from a stuffy hotel and going to play in the woods, which I was instantly in love with her because I could relate to that sense of rebellion. She’s (essentially) adopted by a wealthy man, Mr. Locke, who employs her father, Julian (aka Yule Ian) to travel the world looking for artifacts. The setting for this in 1910s Vermont so it’s not a completely ridiculous premise. Her father is gone for a majority of the year so she has a strangled relationship with him, but as the narrative goes on, the more we come to understand how her little family could end up in this situation. I felt I could relate to January’s angst at being trapped in the house of Mr. Locke and forced to be a proper lady. January is described as having dark skin, so I found that her remediation lessons from Mr. Locke or lessons from the appointed nanny reminded me of similar historical contexts of Native Americans being forced to etiquette schools in 19th century America.
Also cool background info, the house where January lives is a real place!
As the story unfolds we learn more about January’s parents, and how January comes to find out she can open and find doors to other worlds. Each chapter is named after a significant door and the more we learn about doorways the more we learn about the people trying to stop them from letting people through. It’s interesting to think about in the context of today’s news with ICE and border security, and refugees. We should embrace other cultures and ideas because it invites innovation and new ideas, but some people are xenophobic and can’t see past the “otherness” of such people. In fact, January is objectified by Mr. Locke in his “society meetings.” She is seen as an artifact rather than an actual person with feelings and thoughts.
Concurrently with January’s story is the story of Adalaide (Ade) who was born on a farm in the middle of nowhere and lives with her Aunts (I can’t remember the exact years she’s there, but I want to say 1870s? It’s been a while since I’ve read the book to when this review is publishing, sorry!). She is always looking for adventure. She meets a man who comes through a door near her family farm that should not lead to anywhere. They lose track of each other because of circumstances they don’t yet understand. She’s so fixated on this man that she leaves the farm and goes in search for him in doors around the country. I love how this story wrapped up into the narrative. I can’t give any more away without it being a spoiler! Also interesting to note that the two main characters are women who decide to leave their circumstances, are brave in their own ways, and challenge the norms of the time.
In summary, I felt like each narrative and character arc fit so well together. I was on the edge of my seat trying to figure out how each story fit with one another. I thought the development of the antagonist was well done, too. When January is on the run in the later half of the book I was so nervous for how that was going to play out. I was enchanted with the book from page one and I want everyone to read this!! It’s an underrated debut from this year, don’t sleep on this!