100 Cupboards: Great premise, doesn’t pay off

children's fantasy book reviews N.D. Wilson 1. 100 Cupboards 2. Dandelion Firechildren's fantasy book reviews N.D. Wilson 1. 100 Cupboards100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

Henry’s parents have been kidnapped, so his aunt and uncle and their three daughters have taken him in. Things are different at Uncle Frank and Aunt Dotty’s house. Henry’s overprotective parents made him eat healthy food, ride in a carseat until he was nine, and wear a helmet at recess. But now Henry eats hotdogs, drinks soda, plays baseball, and owns a knife. But things get even more interesting for Henry when he discovers that there are dozens of little doors under the plaster of the walls in his attic bedroom, and that these doors are portals to other worlds!

I love the premise of 100 Cupboards — the idea of a room full of tiny strange-looking doors to other worlds is fun and appealing to children, who are N.D. Wilson’s target audience. My kids (ages 9 and 12), who listened to 100 Cupboards with me, did enjoy the characters and the story. We listened to Listening Library’s version read by the agreeable, but just a little too mature-sounding, Russell Horton.

N.D. Wilson spends most of the book building up Henry’s character, showing us that Henry’s been sheltered and consequently he’s kind of wimpy and fearful, and that Henry realizes this and he’s ready to try to overcome his upbringing. The dialogue is pleasant, and many of the interactions with his new family are sweet and poignant (though Henry’s lack of concern for his parents is disturbing). But all of this character development comes at the expense of the plot, which doesn’t really start moving until the last 20% of the book.

Eventually, toward the end, we finally get to visit a couple of the worlds behind the doors and things get scary and bloody (it may be too frightening for some young readers). This, surprisingly, is when the plot thins. The fantasy worlds behind the doors are, so far, lacking in depth. It is probable (almost certain, really) that these worlds seem slim now because we’ve only spent a few pages there and that they’ll expand into something more impressive in the sequel, Dandelion Fire. There are many hints that 100 Cupboards is a build-up to something much bigger, and there’s lots of potential here. I’m disappointed that there wasn’t much payoff in this installment, but I won’t feel like I wasted my time if the sequel delivers.


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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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9 comments

  1. This actually reminds me of the experience both Bill and I had with Marianne Malone’s The Sixty-Eight Rooms — there was this great adventure premise but it hardly got used, only for a few pages really.

  2. Yes, I remember those reviews — exactly the same problem!

  3. Like Kelly, the book’s premise and your review reminded me of the Rooms book

    Kaidan petered out on the second; I’ll be curious what you think

  4. Bill, do you mean that Kaidan read the second Rooms book, or the second Cupboards book? If he petered out on the second Cupboards book, then I probably won’t bother to try it. It also depends on whether it’s free at my library.

  5. Kelly and Bill, I just went back and re-read your reviews of the Malone book. Yes, this Cupboards book was exactly like that. The exploration of the worlds behind the cupboards is so scanty that it doesn’t deliver on the promise. Probably the sequels do, but I was disappointed enough that I’m not sure I want to risk it.

  6. He petered out on the second Cupboards book. I never picked it up as I was swamped at the time and while I don’t always go by my nine-year-old’s viewpoint (he was completely wrong on Nietzsche for instance), in this case I did.

  7. When I first saw the cover for this book I had high expectations, it looked quite intriguing. But I felt the same way, I actually only made it about half way through and stopped reading. A few weeks later I came across it again and the cover really called out to me, so I thought I’d give it another try. My reading moods do change :) but unfortunately, I still did not finish it. Bummed, actually, as I really did have a great feeling about it.

  8. I felt the same way about it, Rachel. I wanted to review it for the website and it wasn’t bad enough to deserve a “DNF” so I finished it, but I might have given up if I hadn’t been planning to review it.

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