Welcome to part one of the second buddy read of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter and friend of the blog, Janelle.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second in the Wayward Children series of novellas if you read the books in publication order, and the first book chronologically (for now). We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.
Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
This is the story of what happened first…
Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.
Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.
They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.
They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is Jack and Jill’s story as you’ve never seen it before. It’s a prequel to Every Heart a Doorway – the story before they arrived at Eleanor West’s, and oh is it a heartbreaking story.
The origin story begins with their parents – parents we can all imagine – manicured and polished, more in love with the idea of children than the actual children themselves, and that is of course, the beginning of the end.
Down Among The Sticks and Bones is a lyrical exploration of what happens to two young women when they’re finally given the opportunity to forge their own paths without the weight of parental expectation. A tale of sisters, of labels, of boxes, and the choices children make when offered an escape from the roles they’ve been forced into, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is as delightful and moving as Every Heart a Doorway was.
Seanan McGuire’s prose is wry and melancholy, a tone that pervades the entire book to haunting effect.
Read on below for part one of our Buddy Read discussion!
Alex: I LOVE Down Among The Sticks and Bones; I think it’s my favorite of the series thus far. Jack makes me so happy, Jill makes me want to shake her (but is also totally my own sister) and the Moors seem like a horrible, wonderful place.
Marzie: It’s my favorite, too. Please tell me your sister will not go after your loved one.
Janelle: I think that if any of the worlds shown thus far belong to me, it would be the Moors. I really identified with Jack. To some extent, I identified with Nancy as well. I agree Jack and Jill had a very interesting sisterly dynamic.
Alex: No, my sister definitely would not go murdering my loved ones, but the athletic to ultra girly change fits her, and her very fraught relationship with Jack is very similar to my own with my sister. I think that’s one thing that Seanan does really well – she writes incredibly nuanced sister relationships that make me feel SEEN. Jack and Jill, Antimony and Verity, both of those relationships feel viscerally real to me.
Marzie: I can kind of relate to both Jack and Nancy, from my science background to my love of silence and stillness. If I am honest, Seanan’s sisterly relationships in these series make me glad I am an only child, okay? Because Jill? No Way. But I know they feel real, even though I don’t have the comparison you do. Janelle, do you have sisters?
Janelle: My family situation is complicated in that I probably have sisters (at the time I was adopted, I was my bio-mother’s eighth child), but I didn’t grow up with them. So I’m obsessed with sisterly relationships and big families, wondering what it must be like. I can definitely see how I might interact and play off a sister like Jack does with Jill. It really touched that side of me.
Marzie: Oh my, I didn’t realize… Do you even what that in this post? I can remove the question. My youngest was adopted at eight and wasn’t raised with his older siblings, either.
Alex: I think that’s one of the most valuable parts of this book – it shows off a much more nuanced and complicated sibling relationship than I feel that we usually see in media. Either it’s minor scuffles but they really love each other, or they get along perfectly, but there’s not usually space for sibling relationships that are messy and fraught and complicated.
Marzie: That’s a good point. I love Ilona Andrews’ books, but in their new series (the Nevada and Catalina Baylor ones) I sometimes feel like the sibling relationship is too rosy. When the siblings tease, it isn’t ever with a real edge or bite. I have cousins. I have seen things!
Janelle: Yes, absolutely! This sibling relationship is just fraught with all sorts of complications. And it all makes sense. It is just incredibly unique and beautiful to look at.
Marzie: How do you feel about the Moors? Could you thrive there?
Alex: Ultimately, no. I think the Moors are beautiful, but they’re also brutal, and I don’t think I could thrive in a more overtly brutal world than the one we’re in now.
Janelle: I would LOVE to live on the Moors. I think the Moors are creepy and beautiful, and I would love to watch the different dynamics at play. I think I belong somewhere creepy. Haha. It also seemed like there were so many stories there that just weren’t explored. It felt fully realized in a way that Nancy’s sort of didn’t. For me, at least.
Marzie: I couldn’t live on the Moors. I’m like you Alex. It’s too cruel. But I think it’s interesting that Seanan totally groks how visceral and brutal children can be.
Janelle: Children are so incredibly brutal.
Alex: I definitely want to know more about the ocean lords and the wolves.
Marzie: About the story, I have actually wondered if she wrote Jack and Jill’s story first but considered Every Heart to be a far more gentle entry into the Wayward world.
Janelle: Oooh, great theory, Marzie. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were it. Or at least had Jack and Jill’s story in her mind first.
Alex: That’s a really interesting theory. It makes a lot of sense to me.
Marzie: Maybe I’ll ask her at the next AMA she does. Because that’s really how these two books felt to me.
Head over to Marzie’s Reads for part two of our discussion! Then, make sure to join us next month for our reviews and discussion of the third book in Wayward Children series, Beneath the Sugar Sky!