Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All: Overcomes a slow start

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura RubyThirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsI loved Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap so much that I was almost afraid to read Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All (2019). How could it possibly live up to my expectations of it? After having read it, I can report that I do still think I liked Bone Gap better, but that Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All is also a good read. I’m not alone in thinking that, either; it was a finalist for the National Book Award and was chosen for the 2019 Locus Recommended Reading list.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All is set in Chicago in the years leading up to, and then during, World War II. Its first-person narrator is a ghost, Pearl, who died in the flu epidemic of 1918 but is still bound to earth. One of her haunts is the Guardian Angels Orphanage, where Pearl takes an interest in one girl in particular, Francesca “Frankie” Mazza, and narrates Frankie’s story alongside her own.

Frankie lives in an orphanage, but she’s not actually an orphan. Her father placed her and her siblings there after their mother’s death. Now he is moving to Colorado with his new wife, taking Frankie’s brother and the new wife’s kids, but not Frankie and her sister. Frankie wishes for, but also fears, some change in her circumstances; she has “a fear that the future would never come and a fear that it would, a strange sense that she wouldn’t be strong enough to meet it.”

The novel gets off to a bit of a slow start, with both Pearl and Frankie’s existences bound by routine. At one point, Pearl defines Frankie’s life as “her own little loop,” and though she’s referring to a later situation, it applies to Frankie’s time in the orphanage and to Pearl’s travels as well. If you, like me, are a fan of the TV show Westworld, this phrase will probably remind you of the “hosts,” and that’s apropos in some ways. Neither Pearl nor Frankie turn out to be an android, but their lives are similarly circumscribed.

Laura Ruby

Laura Ruby

But change is coming, no matter how Frankie feels about it; the specters of adulthood and the war are on the horizon. For Pearl, a new friendship with another young woman ghost leads to her learning more about her paranormal abilities. For both girls, there are family secrets to be learned. Ruby builds both plotlines to a deeply emotional boiling point, and brings them together in a satisfying way at the end. And if the ending leaves you wondering how it all turned out, page back to the very beginning, which you might have forgotten by now — the answer was there all along.

While the two novels have a different feel and are set in different countries, Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All explores some of the same issues as Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s All the Bad Apples. Both books are, in large part, about how girls were (and sometimes still are) punished for wanting anything, be that love, sex, food, or independence, and how both families and institutions sometimes failed them. I recommend both.

Published in 2019. National Book Award 2019 Finalist! From the author of Printz Medal winner Bone Gap comes the unforgettable story of two young women—one living, one dead—dealing with loss, desire, and the fragility of the American dream during WWII. When Frankie’s mother died and her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago, it was supposed to be only temporary—just long enough for him to get back on his feet and be able to provide for them once again. That’s why Frankie’s not prepared for the day that he arrives for his weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket. Now Frankie and her sister, Toni, are abandoned alongside so many other orphans—two young, unwanted women doing everything they can to survive. And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to Frankie to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America—every minute of every day spent wondering if the life she’s able to carve out will be enough. I will admit I do not know the answer. But I will be watching, waiting to find out. That’s what ghosts do. 

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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One comment

  1. This sounds great!

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