Sally Gardner is one of our greatest, most intelligent writers, and everything I’ve read by her has been bright and textured and gripping, and when Maggot Moon won the 2012 Carnegie Medal for Children’s Fiction, it cemented her talents as a brilliantly original YA writer. The Door That Led to Where is another look at time travel and the past, which The Double Shadow handled subtly in a wonderfully addictive style, so YOU BET I WAS EXCITED.
AJ never knew his father. In fact, he barely knows his mum either. He’s got one GCSE to his name, and virtually no prospects, living with his bitter mum and whichever new bloke she’s with that month in a pokey little highrise flat in London, so life is looking far from sweet. His best friends, Slim and Leon are always in one scrape or another, but AJ just wants to settle in to a proper job – not working on the markets and ripping off drug dealers. He wants to escape his mum’s flat and make something of himself. When a job opens for a junior clerk at a local law firm, AJ knows he’s got virtually no chance of getting it, but he’s really got nowhere else to go. But it seems like the name Aiden Jobey has some sway at Baldwin Groat, and he manages against all odds to land a job. Life is fast paced at the law firm, and AJ soon throws himself into the work in an attempt to distract himself from his home life, and it’s in the archives that he finds an ornate looking antique key, inscribed with his name. The key leads him to a strange, dangerous world that straddles the present day London, and the cutthroat world of the 18th Century – mysteries that span 200 years, and the secret history of his family that he’s never known.
Another brilliant Sally Gardner novel! And as always, a complete unique and fresh story and change of direction. AJ is a brilliant lead character, full of directionless passion and fuel to be better, and his love of books and reading shows that while he’s academically challenged, he’s an emotionally articulate and bright young man. He’s full of compassion too, and is always thinking of what’s best for those around him before he thinks of himself. The relationship between him, Slim and Leon is superb and full of heart, and the one between him and his mum is excellently fraught, following a beautiful series of twists.
One of my favourite things about Sally’s novels is the distinct, individual voice that seeps through in each one. The Door That Led to Where is no exception, and AJ and his friend’s dialogue crackles with energy and life that makes it so easy to read, and makes the characters feel grounded, real and fun. She also creates two wonderful visions of London with a heartful of love for the city both as it is, bleak and loud, and as it was in the 1800s, dark and silent. The city is as much a character in the story as any of the humans are, and it pulses with energy and power in both timeframes.
The plot itself is full of twists and turns, keeping you gripped in both the past and the present, and in true Gardner style, it stands perfectly alone and strong from her other books, using her signature way of metaphors and lyrical writing style, but in a totally new direction, creating another brilliantly intelligent, witty and accessible YA novel.
Thanks for Reading, Always.