Warning: Contains spoilers
In Chapter 6, the group has formed! On Eleanor’s request, Jack, Kade, Nancy and Christopher help to dispose of Loriel’s body and bond over their creepy experiences. Once they have Loriel sitting in acid, they search for Jill.
This is the most interaction we’ve got between a group of characters since the start of the novel. They share a lot, possibly more than they do in group therapy (or at least that we see). Unlike in the previous chapter, where Eleanor highlights the differences between the students’ worlds, this chapter highlights the similarities. Jack, Nancy, and Christopher share a respect for the dead, and although that comes from different places, it links them.
Kade, on the other hand, doesn’t deal with dead bodies, but he joins them because they are also linked by a common goal. They bond over disposing a dead body, which is weird, no question. This marks them as outsiders within the school, as we see later.
We were introduced to Christopher in the previous chapter briefly, now we get to know more about him. He’s earnest but not serious. He, like Nancy, respects the dead, but for a very different reason – he respects the bones beneath the flesh, rather than the dead souls. I enjoy Christopher’s ability to call things out; telling Jack she’s sort of mean was necessary but also not overly harsh.
I also enjoy the way Nancy’s asexuality is handled. It’s not just a label — we can see that it affects the way she thinks and interacts with Kade. It also doesn’t overtake the main focus on the story. We spend a few moments on her very human confusion about kissing (I relate, I get confused about that too) and return to the matter of figuring out the murders.
“… the duality of the doors: they changed lives, and they destroyed them, all with the same, simple invitation. Come through, and see.”
There is a dark side of the doors: they give you an identity and they let you be yourself, but they also change you to the point where they can no longer fit in with the world of your origin. As Jack says, they have “no way of coping with this world, which doesn’t want us back.” These are all people who have a narrative that doesn’t fit with the world, the outsiders. This chapter shows what they need to do to survive in such a world. It means they have to lie.
We see this not just in terms of what it takes to keep the school open, but in the factions within the school. Christopher hasn’t revealed he can talk to bones because he wants to keep his social life, he wants to fit in. Sometimes you have to choose a different story to tell just to survive. Jack says she is not Jill’s friend, but that they present a united front so that the other students don’t haze them. They pretend friendship to survive.
This pretension is not a good thing. In this chapter, the narrative points out how useful their otherworldly talents are. They can see in the dark. Jack has enough medical knowledge to figure out part of the mystery. Christopher reveals he has a talent – talking to bones – that could mean they learn more about Loriel’s murder. This is a talent he previously didn’t feel safe revealing without being ostracised by the rest of the school. Fitting in this way harms not only the individual, but the larger society. Some people have talents, or ways of looking at the world that would benefit the world, if they are allowed to express themselves fully. However, if the world forces everyone to fit the same mould, then these talents are suppressed in the name of survival. We need to hear all different kinds of stories, not just to help the people who tell them, but to help the people who hear them as well. We need a world where it is safe for people to be themselves.
Mystery and Plot
“Jill, in contrast, seemed perfectly serene, and was one of the few students who was actually eating.”
Well, of course, because she knows she has nothing to fear. Here, Nancy (or the narrator, hard to tell which) attributes Jill’s calmness to the horror movie world she visited, but knowing the ending gives it a whole different meaning.
This is point where the characters begin to realise that the main goal is collecting parts, rather than simply killing. We are really getting into the meat of the story now, and it is nice to see we can include moments of friendship and bonding even as the overall fear and tension rises.