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Literature / Wayward Children

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The Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire is about the residents of Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, which is a Boarding School for children who went to Magical Lands, got kicked out, and want to return.

The series alternates between a present-day plot at Eleanor West's Home and flashback books that tell how residents of the Home discovered and lost their Doors.

The books in the series are:

  1. Every Heart a Doorway (2016)
  2. Down Among the Sticks and Bones (2017)
  3. Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018)
  4. In an Absent Dream (2019)
  5. Come Tumbling Down (2019)
  6. Across The Green Grass Fields (2021)
  7. Where The Drowned Girls Go (2022)

The series also includes the short story "Juice Like Wounds", which was released free on Tor.com in July 2020.


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This series contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: For a door to open, something major has to be missing in a child that they yearn to get back and that only their world can give them, and in the majority of cases it's due to their parents.
  • Arc Words: "Be Sure", written in many magical lands on the entrance and warning the children that they must be sure they want their magical land. None of them are, at first.
  • Backstory: Every even book is a backstory for one of the characters introduced in the general arc. So far we've had Jack and Jill's backstory in Down Among the Sticks And Bones and Lundy's backstory from In An Absent Dream.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Sumi's time in a candy-themed Nonsense world left her a restive, chatterbox Cloudcuckoolander. Occasionally she reminds people that she's also the hero who overthrew that world's despot, such as when she grabs a baling hook and impales a Vampire Monarch through the neck.
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  • Big Beautiful Woman: Alexis Chopper is described as fat, golden-haired, vibrantly blue-eyed, and "beautiful in ways Jack stumbles to find the words for."
  • Boarding School: Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, which is for children who went to Magical Lands, got kicked out, and wanted to return.
  • Calacas: Christopher went to a world of these and even got engaged to one of them.
  • Consistent Clothing Style: Nancy Whitman only wears gauzy black and white clothes with one pomegranate-red hair ribbon since her years in the Land of the Dead, where colours are rare favours granted by the ruler.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Jill Wolcott wears expensive, diaphanous pastel gowns for everything, including walking through muddy streets. As the adopted "daughter" of a Vampire Monarch, money is absolutely no object — if she ruins one, it'll be fixed or replaced before she even thinks to look.
  • Death Is Cheap: Downplayed in the Moors, where the dead can usually be raised with lightning and some mad science, even if the body was dismembered and stitched back together. Being resurrected once is fairly trivial; twice is dicey, leaving the patient reliant on regular top-ups from an external power source; and three times is never worth it. Also, Jack points out that just because death isn't permanent doesn't mean it's not traumatic.
  • Improbably Female Cast: While the worlds call to anyone, the majority of travelers are girls. Eleanor explains that it's not because of any inherent magic, but just because boys in general tend to be raised to be the center of attention, so they have fewer opportunities to get to their worlds.
  • The Lonely Door: There's a door like this leading to Eleanor's world in the grounds of the school.
  • Magic Music: Christopher's flute can animate skeletons with motion and a shadow of their old intelligence. It was carved out of his own ulna in a Day of the Dead-themed Otherworld, and its music is audible only to the dead.
  • Merlin Sickness: Ms. Lundy purchases eternal childhood to exploit a loophole in a magical world's rules. The treatment makes her age in reverse at a one-quarter rate, ensuring she'll spend the rest of her life a child. Then she's kicked out for rule-breaking anyway.
  • Romantic Asexual: In the book, Every Heart a Doorway, The Protagonist Nancy Whitman is asexual and notes that she feels no sexual desire for anyone. She does note that she isn't aromantic though and develops feelings for one of her classmates, a transgender boy named Kade Bronson.
  • Skunk Stripe:
    • Inverted with Nancy: when the Lord of the Dead ran his fingers through her hair, everything he didn't touch turned white out of envy.
    • Alexis Chopper gets a white streak in her golden hair from a ghost's Kiss of Death. After she's brought Back from the Dead, her eventual girlfriend Jack finds the overall effect very striking.
  • Stout Strength: Cora has been fat all her life and is by far the best athlete out of the main characters in Beneath the Sugar Sky; in particular, she's a phenomenal swimmer, able to greatly outpace the others even while pulling an unconscious person. She's deeply tired of people's assumption that fat means idle.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: The Master, Vampire Monarch of the Moors, has unique Jack-o'-lantern orange eyes. They and his blood-red lips are the only bits of colour on his body, and the first things Jack and Jill notice on seeing him.
  • Supernaturally Validated Trans Person: Kade was kidnapped into Fairyland by a group of The Fair Folk who targeted little girls. He became a hero there and slays the Goblin King who, with his last breath, recognizes that Kade is really a boy and names him his heir. Knowing that he's a boy, the fairies unceremoniously return Kade to Earth (and his transphobic family), never to return.
  • Terrified of Germs: Jack the apprentice Mad Scientist wears gloves all the time and puts her girlfriend through a full decontamination regimen before going to bed with her. She's not bothered by dirt or mess in general, only anything to do with bodies, and is fully aware that it's an expression of her OCD.
  • Trapped in Another World: The whole series is a Reconstruction of portal fantasy. When the children come home they're permanently changed, often can't relate to their peer group or family, and want nothing more than to return, and often end up institutionalized or on the streets because they refuse to forget the things they've seen. At the same time, the worlds are where children truly belong and where they become their fullest selves.
  • Vampire's Harem: The Master of the Moors likes to claim pretty young girls like Jill, raise them as his "daughters" and compliant victims, and turn them into vampires when they turn eighteen. It's described in very similar terms to a sexually abusive parent. Jill is desperate to become a vampire, because she's built her life around appeasing him and she doesn't know how to be anything else.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Even-numbered books in the series tell the stories of how people at the Home for Wayward Children found and lost their Doors.


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