Over the Woodward Wall, by A. Deborah Baker (Tordotcom)
Two children, one a conformist, the other a spontaneous adventurer, find themselves transported to a magical world of beauty and peril. Avery is conventional, precise, analytical. Zib is an elemental force of courage and chaos. When their separate, parallel routes to school are blocked by construction, they take a short cut over a wall and end up in the land of Up and Under, befriended by owls and a Crow Girl, who periodically disassembles herself into a murder of crows. Occasionally guided by a glittering Improbable Road, they embark upon a journey home. Other character, both sympathetic and sinister, form often dangerous alliances with the children.
The narrative style is often humorous, always witty, as if the third-person narrator were a character in itself. I suspect that Seanan McGuire, writing as A. Deborah Baker, had a hugely entertaining time writing the book, as the reader will have reading it. A fast, entertaining read.
Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire (Tordotcom)
At first I thought from the title that this was a sequel to Over the Woodward Wall (written as A. Deborah Baker), but Across the Green Grass Fields takes place in an entirely different world, with a new protagonist. The prose style is similar, as is the device of a door (or wall) through which children enter a magical world and their adventures there.
In this case, the child is Regan, whose abiding love in life is horses. Although growing up in a loving and supportive family, she’s insecure enough to seek the approval of a domineering, conformist girl. When she confides in her friend the newly disclosed information that she’s intersex (genetically XY but female in appearance, due to androgenic insensitivity syndrome, a neat bit of medical geekery1), her friend reacts with bigoted cruelty. Regan then escapes (through a magical door, of course) to a land where the first creatures she encounters are unicorns (gorgeous but dumb as rocks) and centaurs (an all-female family that accepts her without question into their loving home).
Immersed in the Hooflands, buoyed by her love of horses and things-horselike (murderous kelpies, for example), Regan grows into a competent, confident adult without the difficult question of which gender camp she fits into. Of course, all is not well in the Hooflands, and various adventures ensue.
I applauded a biologically intersex hero, and the way sex versus gender is beautifully depicted. Even more, having been a horse-obsessed teen myself, I appreciated the empowering and healing nature of the human-equine relationship. I’d love to see more stories like this2 – maybe McGuire will create them!
- Full disclosure: one of my children is a physician specializing in medical care for gender and sexual minorities.