Warning: Here be spoilers.
In Chapter 3, Nancy meets the school therapist, Lundy, who is aging in reverse, due to a bargain she made at the Goblin Market. The morning after group therapy, Nancy learns some unpleasant truths during her orientation.
“Nancy realised … she’d started thinking of the little girl as an adult woman. It was the way she carried herself: too mature for the body she inhabited, too weary for the face she wore.”
Like the others we’ve met, Lundy is a product of the world she went to. Her defining characteristic is not what kind of world it was, but rather how she left; how her determination to stay got her kicked out and cursed into the bargain. Like the other characters, she is here because she was forced into a world she doesn’t want to be. Her attempts at not aging mean that the rest of the world are going to push her into the box mark ‘child’ and keep her there.
However, Lundy serves a different purpose to the other characters we’ve met so far. She is an authority figure, a teacher. Her experience is a part of that: a warning not to go too far when trying to get what you want. She represents the unpleasant truth of their situation, the truth they don’t want to face. So it’s fitting that she is the one to tell people that their chances of getting home are so low as to be almost impossible.
“For us, the places we went were home. We didn’t care if they were good or evil or neutral or what. We cared about the fact that for the first time, we didn’t have to pretend to be something we weren’t. We just got to be. That made all the difference in the world.”
Again, we see that the characters are equated with the world they went to, with their story. We also see people push back on the labels given to their worlds. Kade complains that while his world is labelled Virtue, the people there still threw him out just because he wasn’t a girl. Nancy cannot comprehend the idea of her world being Wicked. These labels that have been given to the worlds, and thus to the characters, aren’t useful to the individuals. They deny the real experiences of the individual, the fact that every world is different, that every person is different, and experiences things differently.
So in this book, going to another world represents figuring out your true self, and allowing that true self to be, while remaining in this world represents being forced to adapt to another person’s narrative. Part of this can be seen in the explanation for why there are so few boys at the school. Boys are forced to adapt to a certain narrative that means they aren’t given the time to explore who they are, they aren’t given the chance to find their world and their true selves. Here we see it isn’t the label itself that is harmful, it is all the expectations attached to that label.
“Remember, only by learning about the journeys of others can we truly understand our own.”
So if labels are unhelpful, how can we define things? Perhaps the answer is to simply listen and learn. This is the first indication of our “We’re All in this Together” theme, where we learn that even very different people can work together if they listen and make an effort to understand the stories of others.
Mystery and Plot (aka Spoilers!!!)
“Maybe it was evil to the core, filled with wiggling worms and bad stuff, and you couldn’t see it.” [Sumi] slanted a glance toward Jill, almost as if she were checking the other girl’s reaction.
Hello, foreshadowing. It seems that Sumi knows or suspects that Jill is less “nice” than she appears on the surface. Does she know how dangerous Jill could be? We may never find out…
This is the final chapter of Part 1: The Golden Afternoons. That’s an indication that things will take a fairly sharp turn after this. However, this first part was structured around Nancy — Nancy’s arrival, Nancy’s struggle to understand, Nancy coping with the fact that she might not be able to leave. While Nancy is the one who frames the book’s story, she is not quite the centre of the plot, as we shall soon see.