Introduction: Downsides of a Prequel
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second instalment of the Wayward Children series. It follows the adventures of Jack and Jill Wolcott, from inception to childhood to the Moors, a world which could serve the setting for pretty much any Gothic horror.
I’m going to say it right now: this is probably my least favourite of the Wayward Children series.
It’s not bad. It’s just weaker than the others. I think it suffers from being a prequel of characters who were central to Every Heart a Doorway. In an Absent Dream, the fourth book in the series, works because it’s a prequel for Lundy, whose backstory in Every Heart a Doorway takes up a paragraph or so. On the other hand, Jack and Jill’s story is central to the main plot, and so we know most of it before even starting this book. There’s only a few details (and a love interest) that get added in this version. So reading this felt like I was just getting the same story. No suspense, no surprises.
Still, it is a very well told story, and maybe if I comb through it hard enough I’ll find many things to appreciate. Let’s get stuck in, shall we?
(Note: There will be spoilers.)
This chapter explains how Chester and Serena Wolcott, two people particularly unsuited to parenthood, come to be the parents of our two little heroines.
This reads less like a story and more like an explanation. A beautifully worded explanation, but still an explanation. As a prequel, this entire story seeks to explain first causes, to give us deeper insight into how the characters we’ve already met came to be. (Unless you haven’t read Every Heart a Doorway, in which case you should go do that. Right now.) So it makes sense to start right from the beginning.
Something interesting I’d like to examine is whether the themes from the first book carry on in this one. Every Heart a Doorway had a couple of themes. The first is what I like to call Narrative Control — the story examines how each individual person has their own story (maybe several versions of it), how sometimes other people have control, and how, if you really care for someone, the worst thing you can do is tell their story for them. The second theme I will call Outcasts Unite! — which is about how those whose story doesn’t fit into the mainstream, who aren’t in power, can in fact join together, appreciate their differences and win out over all.
So immediately we can see the idea of Narrative Control in the way the Wolcotts think of their own children (and children in general). They see them as dolls or props, ways to increase their own status, supporting characters in their story. It never crosses their minds that their children might have stories of their own.
You don’t see many outcasts uniting in this chapter, and I do have a feeling that we are far more likely to see the opposite — outcasts staying apart because of what their parents have done to them.
Prose and POV
The thought that babies would become children, and children would be come people, never occurred to them.
There’s a very clear voice in the narration, one that doesn’t really belong to any character within the story. It’s a fairly judgmental narrator, at least of the parents in this piece.
It’s quite clear we are not meant to agree with the Wolcotts and their opinions, without saying outright that they are wrong. It lays out what they think, it mentions what they don’t think, and from there you can draw your own conclusions about who is right and who is wrong.
They were parents now, and parenthood came with expectations. Parenthood came with rules. If they failed to meet those expectations, they would be labeled unfit in the eyes of everyone they knew, and the consequences of that, well…
They were unthinkable.
It’s clear we aren’t exactly meant to sympathise with the Wolcotts but perhaps we are meant to feel for them a little. They are in some ways, trapped by their own story. We can see from the expectations they hold. They don’t allow themselves to fail. The problem is they are going to hold their daughters to the same standard.
This is in many ways a prologue. We aren’t introduced to the main characters yet, just given the background that informs them. It is made clear right from the beginning that there is a huge problem when you don’t treat people like actual people, actual individuals who won’t conform to the story you want to tell. This idea is likely going to have echoes further along as we watch Jacqueline and Jillian (no nicknames for the Wolcotts!) grow up.