Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
Published by Balzer + Bray on October 1st, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
“I will admit I do not know the answer. But I will be watching, waiting to find out. That’s what ghosts do.”
*ARC received via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review.
I still remember my friend begging me to read Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. For some reason, I never got around to it until a couple years ago. And then I couldn’t stop recommending it to people. I even got two of my former co-workers to read it and they both fell in love with it too!
So to say that I was excited for Ruby’s new book would be an understatement. AND I got to read it before it came out? It felt like everything was falling in place for me to love it!
So what is Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All about? Oof, that title is a mouthful. It kind of reminds me of how Fall Out Boy names their songs.
In the book, Frankie’s mother died and her father leaves her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago. It’s only supposed to be temporary—just long enough for him to get back on his feet and able to provide for them once again. So Frankie is completely caught off guard when her father shows up for a weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket.
Now Frankie and her sister, Toni, stay abandoned in the orphanage alongside so many other orphans during WWII. Two young and unwanted women doing everything they can to survive as they grow up and discover who they are in the shadow of injustice, poverty, and death.
Oh, you don’t even know how sad I am to be writing this review. Unfortunately, this book fell flat for me. But let’s get to the positives first.
Ruby’s writing has a way of snaking itself around your body and holding you captive until the very last word. Her writing is whimsical, dreamy, and beautiful. But her gut-wrenching descriptions and revelations have a way of haunting you. Her vivid descriptions are heartbreaking and you really begin to feel for these characters.
So if you’re wondering if Ruby’s writing is up to the standards of The Bone Gap, you’re going to be very satisfied with this book.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the fact that it’s narrated by a ghost, but I ended up digging the choice. It definitely shakes things up with this perspective. It’s unique, fresh, and interesting.
I also appreciated the fact that I learned something completely new about this time period. I had no idea that families were ripped apart this way. It makes sense given the economy at the time, but I can’t imagine how hard of a decision it was for these parents to break up their families. Survival is brutal. And as Ruby writes in this book:
It doesn’t matter which door you open, she said. Three or ten or thirteen doorways, there are wolves behind them all.
But now, let’s get into why this book disappointed me. Ultimately, I think this book was trying to do too many things at once. While I did appreciate Pearl’s perspective and narration, I thought it was a bit too messy the way that Ruby tried to tie things up in the end.
There was just already so much ground to cover with Frankie and Toni’s story that other minor characters felt unnecessary. I understand trying to paint a fuller picture of the suffering during this time, but that made the story feel bloated.
And the ending felt empty to me. I didn’t like the way it ended so abruptly. And maybe it’s because I just loved Frankie and her perseverance that I wanted to keep reading about her. But I truly felt like the ending came out of nowhere and the book definitely needed to be longer. There was so much more story to be told about these young, fierce women!
I just think it was a lost opportunity to explore more of Frankie and Toni’s life after making that huge life decision for themselves. The only thing that saved the ending a little bit for me was the afterword by Ruby. Her explaining the inspiration for this book was touching.
Will I be reading Ruby’s work in the future? Absolutely. I think her writing is phenomenal. This book just wasn’t for me and that’s okay! I’m still excited for what Ruby has in store for readers.