Warning: Here be spoilers
In Chapter 5, students turn on Jack, suspecting her of the murder. In group therapy, they discuss the likelihood of returning to their worlds, and the present situation. We close the chapter on a new corpse.
Loriel Youngers is a very minor character in the scheme of the book. We didn’t know her name before this chapter, and she is dead for the rest of the book. This chapter is all we get of her. In functional terms, her only purpose in the story is to be killed. And yet her story is a complete one that reflects the themes of the novel.
We see multiple facets of her character. This includes her distrust and dislike of Jack, to the point where she is willing to prey on Jack’s OCD. But we are also told her story, enough to make us sympathetic for her, and want her to return.
Loriel’s story shows us how stories have different endings, and how these can be twisted by other people. Lundy makes it quite plain she thinks Loriel isn’t going back. Eleanor has a different take: others have returned to the Webworld before, so Loriel could too. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. Loriel’s story is stolen from her. She has neither the ending of remaining at this school for the rest of her days, or returning to her home. With an extra cruel twist, we are told that she could have returned home, since there was a door waiting for her. Loriel’s story could have ended differently, if only somebody else hadn’t stepped in and ended it for her.
Loriel isn’t the only one whose character reflects the theme. We see that most everyone in the school has cast Jack into the role of murderer in this story.
Here’s the thing. In a story, the villain gets their comeuppance, and it is supposed to be satisfying. In a story, if you know who did it, then you take matters into your own hands. So it is easy to see why Loriel feels justified in hurting Jack in a very personal way. After all, in a story that would be perfectly fine.
But it isn’t a story. I mean, it is a story, but it isn’t the only one happening here. Jack has her own story – she’s a scientist. She might care very little for other people, but she wouldn’t waste them. She wouldn’t be so messy as to leave a body.
Something darker that’s been established is that Jack and Jill’s world (and Nancy’s) doesn’t match the worlds of the others. We’ve been told that the others went to pastel worlds, rainbow worlds, whereas Nancy went to a world of shadows and dead people, while Jack and Jill went to a world of blood and obedience. They are outsiders. This is another reason why the students find it easy to put Jack into the role of the villain.
This is why Eleanor’s words of wisdom strike home. She tells them, “This world is unforgiving and cruel to those it judges as even the slightest bit outside the norm. If anyone should be kind, understanding, accepting, loving to their fellow outcasts, it’s you.” When I started this analysis, I thought that one of themes was being stronger together, through bonding. That’s not quite right. It’s about outsiders bonding, the outcasts who need to join together because otherwise they’d be left alone. We see this happen with Nancy, Jack and Jill, and we’ll see it further into the story. If a cruel world has cast you out, then you are not truly alone, because there will be other outcasts who may not be exactly the same as you, but they will stand with you. For this to work, though, you do have to be kind, understanding, accepting. You do have to hear other people’s stories, and not force a narrative upon them.
Mystery and Plot
Well, here is the other half of the clue that was introduced last chapter. We were told then that nobody who had to use the shared bathrooms could have cleaned all the blood off their hands without being noticed. Here, we are told that Jack and Jill have their own bathroom in the basement. It’s a clever way to sneak in a clue – I certainly didn’t notice it on my first read through. Even if you do notice, it indicates two possible suspects, and doesn’t necessarily rule out everyone else in the school. (They never say, but it stands to reason people like Kade, Eleanor and Lundy would have their own bathrooms.) It’s a fun detail to pick up on a reread.
This chapter encompasses the lull between one dead body and another. It focuses on the tensions and suspicions arising from Sumi’s death. There isn’t that much action, but action isn’t necessary as long as the characters have something to say.