Wayward Children, #7: Where the Drowned Girls Go
By: Seanan McGuire
Published: January 4, 2022
***WARNING: SOME SPOILERS FROM PREVIOUS BOOKS IN THE WAYWARD CHILDREN SERIES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.***
“You said it was where students go when they want to believe that everything that happened on the other side of the door was just a dream, or a delusion, and not a real thing at all. Please. I want to wash the Moors off my skin. I want to drain the Drowned Gods out of my soul. I can’t do wither of those things here, where I’m expected to dwell and dwell and dwell on what happened. Please. You have to let me go,” (3: Full Fantom Five).
In any ongoing series—whether or not it’s a book, a TV show, a video game, etc.—there is a time when the audience waits for a moment which is highly anticipated. Most of the time, these are due to cliffhangers from a previous entry. Other times, they are from elements of foreshadowing and/or revelations mentioned earlier in the series. Once in a while, a plot device is presented at the start of a series, and it lingers—not within the narrative, but within the minds of the audience. Fans and readers of the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire have been waiting for this moment with high anticipation. In Where the Drowned Girls Go, the latest in the series, we travel to the infamous and the mysterious “sister school” in Maine.
In this continuation of the present-day entries of this series, the protagonist is Cora Miller—a mermaid/drowned girl. It’s been months since the events in Come Tumbling Down, and Cora is still traumatized by what happened to her while traveling in the Moors. She has physical scars—the silver scales—and emotional scars—nightmares, PTSD, anxiety, etc.—which cloud over her everyday life; and, Cora worries this might prevent her Door from reappearing again. The theory amongst Eleanor West’s students is each Door/World is meant for the intended Traveler and NO ONE else. And, while some Worlds are “connected to” and/or “similar to” other ones, each one is their own separate World. Each student knows this, yet Cora is dealing with the harsh repercussions of this truth. She no longer thinks about her World, the Trenches, because she cannot forget about the Moors. Believing the Drowned Gods won’t leave her alone unless she “forgets” about her Door, Cora begs Eleanor to let her transfer to the “sister school” (in the U.S.)—the Whitethorn Institute. Reluctantly, Eleanor agrees and Cora transfers to Maine where she learns almost instantly the Drowned Gods were more welcoming than the school. At Whitethorn, she meets the staff—who don’t reveal their names, her dormmates—with 1 or 2 who are familiar to the reader(s), and Headmaster Whitethorn—whose presence is memorable, but his face is not. Cora’s stay at Whitethorn is a lonely one; in fact, Cora begins to compare her life at Whitethorn to her life at her old school (before she went through her Door). As Cora starts to unravel her trauma—past and present—she falls further into despair. Her daily life has become authoritative and stringent, and Cora is not given much time to separate herself from the Drowned Gods. Cora is starting to regress, and she needs to decide between her fears (of both Whitethorn and the Drowned Gods) and her desires (to become the heroic mermaid she used to be). Cora’s path to overcome her trauma is very complex. Then again, growth within any individual—or character—is not straightforward. Strangely enough, her dormmates must make the same choices for themselves.
There is A LOT of plot development in this book; and, readers get even more world-building in this entry than in some of the previous books in the series. The main plot focuses on the Whitethorn Institute—the “sister school” to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Readers first learned about this school in Maine in Every Heart a Doorway. It is described as being the school for Travelers who “hated” their experiences. However, both the students and the readers realize this is a “simplified” description of the school. Cora learns this school resembles a psychiatric prison than an offsite boarding school. The students at Whitethorn are forced to follow a schedule which forces them to forget and to conform so that they can “graduate” and “reenter” society. Students who refuse to follow the rules find themselves in confinement as punishment. The motto (and the purpose) of both schools is to teach students “how to move on.” The Whitethorn Institute operates and functions as the opposite of Eleanor West’s school; and yet, as the plot develops, you realize the schools are dualistic to each other. One school may or may not have what one specific student needs. In addition, who is to say the parents/guardians of the Travelers did not decide which “school” to send their child(ren) to?
There are (at least) 2 subplots in this novella, and they develop alongside the plot at an appropriate rate. The first subplot surrounds the other students at the Whitethorn Institute; particularly, Cora’s dormmates. At first, we learn how each one of them ended up at Whitethorn. Similar to the students at Eleanor West’s school, most of the students did NOT have a choice to which school they attended. As for the rest of the students, you cannot blame them for choosing Whitethorn over Eleanor West. In addition to the students, you learn about the Worlds they traveled to and what each student gained and/or lost in return. The second subplot involves Headmaster Whitethorn. He is intimidating and creepy; he’s strict and domineering. He is NOT like Eleanor West! Or, is he? Both headmasters are Travelers who have returned to our world and established schools in order to “help” children who have gone through “similar” experiences. Yes, each method is the opposite of the other one, and each headmaster knows it and accepts it as a necessity for those who need it the most. Not to mention, there is a sense of mystery to Headmaster Whitethorn, which rivals the mystery of Eleanor West to some degree. Eventually, we learn about his Travels and what he gained and lost from it. However, unlike Eleanor—who everyone knows—it seems Headmaster Whitethorn is NOT the only one in charge at this school. What exactly did he gain and lose from his Travels?
The narrative is in 3rd person limited from Cora’s point-of-view. A majority of the story focuses on her stay at the Whitethorn Institute and her stream-of-consciousness throughout the narrative. The story moves between sequences of the past and the present as Cora’s stay at Whitethorn start to mirror her traumatic memories of her past. Yes, there are a couple of instances when the P.O.V. shifts; but, it is necessary for the story. All of the P.O.V.s are from reliable narrators, which make the narrative easy to follow.
The style Seanan McGuire uses for Where the Drowned Girls Go presents the darker side of traveling through Doors. Yes, readers experienced what happened both in Down Among the Sticks and Bones and in In an Absent Dream. However, those protagonists were neglected children—which is a serious issue. In this book, we get a continuation of the effects of bullying, which has led Cora to do the worse to herself in the past. While bullying is constant in this series (reread Across the Green Grass Fields) it is a plot device necessary for Cora’s growth. I’m NOT claiming this is a good thing (I was bullied as a child), but this reintroduces the theme of escapism within (portal) fantasy. Yes, trauma led to Cora’s suicide attempt before she became a student at Eleanor West’s school, but her adventures to other Worlds not only led to Cora having another traumatic experience, but also causes her suppressed memories to resurface. All of these moments overwhelm Cora to demand a transfer to another school so that the same “last resort” does NOT end with her (permanent) death. Not all worlds traveled lead to a positive outcome. The mood in this novella is suffocation. Cora is stifled by her trauma, her anxiety and her pent-up emotions. When she arrives at Whitethorn, she learns she is not the only individual experiencing the same thing. The tone in this book is NOT overcoming trauma, but healing from it. It can be argued that many students at the Whitethorn Institute suffered from what happened to them during their stay there as opposed to what happened to them in their Worlds (I could be wrong). Not all traumas led to suicide or to the dismissal of the whole experience, but many individuals must learn how to live with what happened to them knowing they may never overcome it.
Fans of the Wayward Children series will be pleased to know Where the Drowned Girls Go is one of the best entries in the series to date! The appeal for this book is reflected in the numerous 4- and 5-star reviews on Goodreads, on Amazon, on other book retailers, and on social media. Fans of Seanan McGuire’s other books and/or fans of portal fantasy must read this series. And yes, you do have to read ALL of the previous books in the series, and in publication order—especially, Beneath the Sugar Sky! It should be mentioned that this entry in the series will be enjoyed most by fans of The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow and the graphic novel series, Die, by Kieron Gillen. Another thing to know is the illustrations were done by Rovina Cai and they are beautiful as always. Let us hope she does the illustrations for the next book in the series, Lost in the Moment and Found, which will be released next year.
Where the Drowned Girls Go is a spectacular addition to the Wayward Children series and is an excellent fantasy book to kickoff reading in the New Year! Seanan McGuire continues to dazzle her readers with her fantasy worlds, relatable characters, and expansive world-building. The wait to Maine was worth it; and it doesn’t appear that this is the last time readers will travel to the Whitethorn Institute! For now, fans will have to busy themselves with the Compass until the next adventure.
My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW (5 out of 5)!!!