Speculative Chic Book Club: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Welcome to the Speculative Chic Book Club! Each month, we invite you to join us in reading a book that will sometimes be picked beforehand and sometimes be voted on by you, our readers. We’re still working on the format, so following the review of the book and some starter questions, we invite you all to discuss your thoughts in the comments.

down_among_the_sticks_and_bones

Down Among the Sticks and Bones
Written by: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 190 (Kindle)
Series: Wayward Children Book 2
Publisher: Tor.com

Why I Chose It for the Inaugural Book Club Choice: Well, after reading and reviewing Every Heart a Doorway for our Nebula and Hugo posts, I was definitely interested in seeing where this series would go next. It just so happened that this novella was released in June, when we were planning the first book club post. All of the planets aligned for this one, and it just seemed a no-brainer. Plus, at 190 pages, it wasn’t a huge commitment for people unsure of whether or not they’d like to participate.

Premise:

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter — polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter — adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tomboy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

As this is a book club post, we will be talking about the book in its entirety, including the ending. Spoilers are ahead. If you’re just stumbling across this discussion and haven’t read this book yet, you may want to go do that first and then come back.


Discussion: The first book in the Wayward Children series, Every Heart a Doorway, is all about wanting to go home. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is about finding and then losing the place you feel most at home.

We met Jack and Jill in the first novella, when their home had already changed them into the twisted creatures that Nancy befriends, but they grew up very different. Jack and Jill were born Jacqueline and Jillian, and we’re first introduced to them as the most unloved children of very exacting and precise parents. Parents who weren’t interested in having children with minds and desires of their own. Jacqueline was her mother’s child, dressed in frilly dresses and told to sit precisely so and not get messy. Jillian became the son her father hadn’t had, dressed in jeans and given a short boy’s hair cut and thrown into sports because that’s what it was decided she would be.

At no point did their parents ask their daughters if these prescribed roles felt right.

They had two daughters: they had two girls to mold into whatever they desired. The thought that they might be harming them by forcing them into narrow ideas of what a girl — of what a person — should be had never crossed their minds (pg. 38).

When they were younger and living with their parents, they did feel some connection to each other, if only that they were both so unhappy. Stepping through the doorway onto the Moors, meeting the Master and Dr. Bleak, emphasized for both girls how different they really were. Where Jack felt pity for her sister and what Jill had been forced to endure with the short haircuts and the never fitting in as a child, Jill felt mostly resentment for her sister, who’d always had what Jill secretly wanted.

No one said finding the place you’ve always belonged necessarily turned you into your best self.

Some adventures are cruel, because it is the only way they know to be kind (pg 50).

The Moors, and her desire to be the vampire child of the Master, twisted Jill into something her parents wouldn’t have recognized. She finally wore all the frilly dresses she wanted, grew her hair out into fat ringlets. But while her outside grew more frilly and lovely, her heart was as bleak as the landscape they called home. Jack had to scrape by, wearing the cast off hand-me-downs of apprentices before her. She was never dirty, her intense germaphobia wouldn’t let her accumulate dirt, but she took no special pains with her appearance as she used to. And Jack fell in love.

Someone with sharp enough eyes might see the instant where one wounded heart begins to rot while the other starts to heal. Time marches on (pg 121).

There was internal Speculative Chic discussion of whether or not these books were classified as young adult novels, and ultimately, I don’t know that it matters. I could see appeal toward older teens with both the age of the characters and the subject matter, and I think the fact that McGuire writes about acceptance and alternative sexualities is really important.

[Their grandmother] had tried to make sure they knew that there were a hundred, a thousand, a million different ways to be a girl, and that all of them were valid, and that neither of them was doing anything wrong. She had tried (pg 34).

These are important messages for anyone to read, that you’re important, that you aren’t inherently wrong because you don’t like the same things as everyone else.

Discussion questions:

  1. How did the roles the girls were forced into by their parents affect their choices on the Moors?
  2. In what ways are their characteristics still mirrors of each other? How are they different?
  3. The Moors opened to the girls because it was the door that their hearts called, but in the end it only drove them apart. Why did both twins have the same door?  

For various reasons I’m feeling rather apocalyptic, so September’s read deals with life after an apocalyptic event.

bannerlessNext Book: Bannerless
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Discussion Date: 9/22/17

A mysterious murder in a dystopian future leads a novice investigator to question what she’s learned about the foundation of her population-controlled society.

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.

Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn’t yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?

In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.

As promised, we’d like everyone to have some input on what we read in future months. October is a time for ghosts and ghouls and haunted houses. With that in mind, I’ve come up with three tales of the horror variety for you to peruse and choose from! (Clicking on the titles will open their Amazon page so you can read about them!)

Vote for October’s Read:

 

3 Comments

  • Shara White August 25, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    I’ll have to think on those questions some, but I know when I read this, I promptly pulled Every Heart a Doorway back up on my Kindle and read it again, because Jack and Jill’s story was a bit fuzzy (I recognized this was a prequel, and I vaguely remembered one of the twins being the killer, but I couldn’t remember if one of them was dead by the story’s end or not), and I have to say I love these stories to pieces. I think I even liked this one better than the first, and maybe it’s because the first informs this one so much.

    But I do think it’s easy to see how their choices in the Moors were affected by what their parents molded them into being: both wanted what their parents wouldn’t let them have. Jill got the worst of it, I think: she wasn’t allowed to be a girl, so when the opportunity arose, she relished in it, and unfortunately, at the hands of a cruel Master, she didn’t understand that beauty and cruelty were not synonymous. Jack, on the other hand (and maybe due to the parent-induced germaphobia), knew how to sit back and sit still and pay attention. Jill was never taught to pay attention.

    And can I say just how much I loved the love story of this piece? I really hope we get a story to find out what happens after Jack returns to the Moors with her sister’s body.

    Reply
  • Kelly McCarty August 25, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    I loved the concept of this series and the writing is lovely (I especially liked the description of the Moors in this book), but I still hate novellas. I have yet to read a novella that I didn’t think would benefit from being longer. For me, a novella is like getting one bite of cake–it’s even more frustrating if it’s delicious because I want to say, “That’s it? Just that one bite?” One of my main problems with these books is that it’s hard to care when a character you just met five pages ago dies. I wanted to see more of Jack’s relationship with Alexis. I wanted to read Jill’s perspective of her life with the vampire. I read this book right after reading Every Heart a Doorway and I spent most of the first part of it struggling to remember which sister was the more masculine and which the more feminine.

    I feel guilty like I didn’t do my homework because I don’t have great answers for the discussion questions, but here goes:

    1. The girls’ parents never allowed them to be real people. Jack was frightened of the Master and knew that she would be better than Jill at being a decoration because her parents had forced her to be the girly twin. Jack chose the mad scientist to protect her sister but also to save herself. Jill, who was forced to be the tomboy twin, was so blinded by the luxury and frills that she never got to have that she didn’t realize the danger of choosing the vampire.

    Reply
  • Kelly McCarty August 25, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    From some reason, the web site wouldn’t let me post such a long comment.

    2. I didn’t think that the girls were still mirrors of each other after they made their choice, other than on some level, they still cared about each other. I think this would be an easier question to answer if we had gotten Jill’s perspective of her life with the vampire. Neither girl experienced real affection from their parents. Living with the mad scientist and having a relationship with Alexis allowed Jack to experience real love for the first time. Living in the Moors made Jack more human. Jill chose the twisted love of the vampire, which made her ruthless, violent, and cruel. Both girls became the true daughters of their surrogate fathers.

    3. The true heart’s desire of both twins was the same–to be someone’s real daughter, not a trophy or a doll. One twin’s surrogate father made her a better person and the other twin’s surrogate father made her a monster.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: