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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)
  8. Lost in the Moment and Found (2023)
  9. Mislaid in Parts Half-Known (2024)

The series also includes the short stories "Juice Like Wounds" (2020), "In Mercy, Rain" (2022), and "Skeleton Song" (2022), released free on

This series contains examples of:

  • 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 many cases it's due to their parents. In particular, Jack and Jill's parents are emotional abusers who use them as a status symbol, and Antsy's stepfather is a sexual predator.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Doors clearly don't operate by any human sense of morality. They take children to worlds that give them what they need, and there seems to be some sense of fairness as each one has "Be Sure" on the door and children are rarely taken against their will. At the same time, lots of children die in these worlds, some worlds are on the Wicked side of a Virtue-to-Wickedness spectrum, it's disturbingly easy to go through a Door by accident, and the trauma of being displaced (or of being forced to be a hero) is arguably the central theme of the series.
  • 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: Mariposa is filled with marigolds and butterflies by day, and by night, skeletons awaken in song and dance. Some used to be human, but others were created by skeleton "parents". Christopher lived there for a time and got engaged to the princess.
  • Character Alignment: The four primary "directions" among the otherworlds are Logic vs Nonsense and Virtue vs Wickedness.invoked
  • Consistent Clothing Style: Nancy Whitman has only worn gauzy black and white clothes with one pomegranate-red hair ribbon since her years in the Land of the Dead, where colors are rare favors 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.
  • Continuity Cameo: In Lost in the Moment and Found, Antsy and Vineta visit the Moors during the time period of Down Among the Sticks and Bones and notice a pair of blonde twins. The reader recognizes them as Jack and Jill; Vineta regonizes them as dangerous and hurries Antsy away.
  • A Day in the Limelight: "Skeleton Song" focuses on Christopher's time in Mariposa, his love of the Princess, and the reason for his eventual return, as he has yet to get a novella where he's the main protagonist.
  • The Dead Can Dance: A major part of Mariposa's culture are the festivals where people dance without the need for fatigue or the restrictions of gender. Just pull the appropriate clothes over your skeletal form and take your place in the dance.
  • 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. To cap this discussion off in Come Tumbling Down, Jack points out that just because death isn't permanent doesn't mean it's not traumatic.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: Both of the Underworlds we see are actually quite nice places. Nancy's Lord of the Dead treats his servants and subjects well and rules fairly, and Christopher's Mariposa is a joyous and welcoming realm.
  • Door of Doom: An understated example, many children don’t even think much of the strange doors they go through but everyone of them have their life fundamentally altered because of what they go through on the other side.
    • It should be pointed out that the doors themselves take innumerable forms; some form in the water or appear in woodland settings too of course but these are still relatively normal-sized doors.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first book differs in many ways from the rest of the series, which is comparatively Lighter and Softer.
    • 'Be Sure' was not yet a prominent door feature.
    • Multiple characters die rather shocking deaths. Including Sumi, who is magically restored in a later book.
    • It's heavily implied that almost no one can ever return to their worlds after being cast out which makes Nancy's success much more joyful as it's not expected. By later books, it's taken for granted that most of them will go 'home' at some point.
    • The 'no quests' rule: while it's mentioned in later books, it's more for irony than anything else as quests soon become common.
  • 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.
  • Legally Dead: Some of Eleanor's students are presumed or declared dead due to the circumstances of their disappearance, and some have changed too much to be able to return to their old lives. Eleanor keeps a forger on retainer to produce new legal identities when necessary.
  • Locked into Strangeness:
    • When the Lord of the Dead ran his fingers through Nancy's 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.
    • Cora was a mermaid in her world and keeps her natural blue-green hair even after she returns.
  • 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.
  • Not Quite Back to Normal: The kids come back through their doorway changed in some way, psychologically and/or physiologically. They may gain incredible skills but these are usually supplementing existing talents which seem to be part of why they were called to their world in the first place.
  • Otherworldly Technicolour Hair: Cora transforms into a mermaid when she gets Trapped in Another World; though she becomes human again upon returning to Earth, her hair remains blue-green as a sign that she "wears her scales on the inside now".
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Cora came from the Trenches, a world of mermaids. She had gills and fins, she fought the Serpent of Frozen Tears, and they were at war with the surface world as Cora remembers drowning sailors attacking them.
  • Position of Literal Power: A common in the different worlds, there seems to be a hero position, something like a ruler position and then a god position. Not all will have such a position but many of those seen do. They seem to be part of the ecosystems of the world removing inconvenient individuals, keeping an equilibrium, or helping populate the world.
  • 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 slayed the Goblin King who, with his last breath, recognized that Kade is really a boy and named him his heir. Now knowing he was a boy, the fairies unceremoniously returned 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 deeply changed sometimes permanently, 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 belonged and where they became their fullest selves.
    • There's even mention of a sister school, the Whitethorn Institute, for people who don't want to go back to their worlds; this is where Where The Drowned Girls Go opens.
  • 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.
  • The Wonderland: Many of the worlds will have different rules from mundane reality. The stand-out ones are the Nonsense worlds, where the rules of reality are laughed at, at best. Confection as just one example has every location equidistant from each other, only a day's travel away. This is on top of being a Level Ate where the characters Discuss all the problems inherent with that.