Even the safest circumstances can feel binding. In Alix E Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January, a young woman living as the ward of a 19th-century tycoon crafted in the mold of a Vanderbilt or a Rockefeller discovers that her seemingly safe abode is confining in ways she never could have imagined.
Safe, luxurious home?
All these luxuries surround this half-orphan of questionable ethnic origins, no mean feat in an old America significantly intolerant of ethnic diversity and feminine independence. But January bristles against the confinement expected of her station, and it’s no wonder. An avid reader who devours books like some children devour jelly beans, she senses there’s more to the world than what she’s seen, and at the age of eight, this precocious dreamer discovers a door standing in a field, a door that leads to a completely different world.
Door adventures are a popular theme in literature and for good reason. Who hasn’t fantasized about finding a portal that steals one away to a fantastical place where lions talk and rabbits tell time? Lucy Pevensie crawls into a wardrobe and exits in snow-covered Narnia, Alice stumbles into Wonderland, Coraline exits her living room. Magical doors aren’t just for children, adults find them, too. The beach in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series boasts a door the likes of which reveals some of the most frightening mysteries ever set on paper (I still cringe at the thought of the lobstrosities of King’s creation).
Harrow’s January Scaller finds a door in a Kentucky meadow, and her life is forever changed because she knows there are worlds beyond this one, and her guardian is not having any of it. What follows is a tale of the unfolding of a boundaried child who becomes a woman trapped by culture and convention, alternating chapters with what appears to be an academic study of the phenomenon of magic portals. For much of the book, we don’t know the source of the scholarly suppositions, in fact, it’s a subtle distinction made only with the changing of voice and the use of mysterious footnotes. Eventually, the book reveals the author of the work and all the pieces of the puzzle of January’s life begin to fall into place.
To say the pieces “fall into place,” however, is really too passive a description. After years of suppressing the knowledge of the other world, of conforming and stifling her own imagination, events unravel in such a way that January shakes off the torpor of her submission and sets out upon a great adventure of discovery and tests, as brave and wild as any Joseph Campbell hero ever did.
The characters in this wonderful book are deeply developed, the language is rich and descriptive, one can nearly smell each meadow and hear each water’s wave. For readers who yearn to venture off into places completely of an author’s invention, grasp the knob of any of January’s ten thousand doors and be swept into her coming-of-courage.
We love Bookshop.org, a resource that helps readers find independent bookstores where the books they love can be ordered and shipped from small business owners. We checked, and this book, as well as many others, is ready to ship!