...the worst she was ever called where anyone might here was "teacher's pet," which she took, not as an insult, but rather as a statement of fact. She was Katherine, she was the teacher's pet, and when she grew up, she was going to be a librarian, because she couldn't imagine knowing there was a job that was all about books and not wanting to do it.
Here's a quick recap of this series for those of you who haven't heard about it yet/have ignored everything I've said about the series these last few years: Imagine Children who go off to a magical kingdom for a bit from our world -- Narnia, Fillory, the Lands Beyond, Neverland, Lyrian, whatever you call that land on the other side of the fourteenth door in Coraline, etc. -- and then return home. Some will go on to live "normal" lives -- others can't forget or outgrow their attachment to the magical world -- some of those, those who want more than anything to return to whatever was on the other side of the door wind up at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. This series is about some of those children.
There's a basic outline to these books -- McGuire introduces you to a Child and a new world. Her language will be lyrical, playful and enchanting. She'll draw you in with the awe and wonder and while you're not looking, she'll set the hook, and you will be as emotionally tied to her characters as you are close family members*. Then something devastating will happen to those characters, and you will feel horrible, yet love the experience. No matter what kind of resolution is found in the book (death, rescue, brokenness), when you close the book you'll almost instantly start waiting until the next book comes out, because McGuire is just that good.
In this book we meet Katherine -- Katherine's never been good at making friends her age (there are justifiable reasons for this), but she likes talking to adults more, she likes rules, and she loves reading. There's something about each Wayward Child that readers can identify with, but Katherine is more relatable to readers than the others have been. One day, Katherine comes upon a tree that hadn't been there before. This tree had a door in it, and before she realized what was happening -- she was on the other side of the door, walking down a hall, on her way to a Goblin Market. In the last book, we saw a nonsense world -- this is a logic world, through and through. There are rules, enforced by everyone who lives there -- and somehow, by the world itself.
Unlike that (mostly) tongue-in-cheek outline above, each of these books are so different from the rest, it's hard to compare them -- so I'll try not to. But the structure of this seems more different than the others have. So I'm not going to tell you any more about the plot than I have -- I'll just say it's a great story, incredibly well told -- and even when the narration tells you the ending is not going to be "kind", you keep expecting/hoping/wanting for things to work out for Katherine and her loved ones.
I've made the ending sound bad -- it's not "happy," but I'm not complaining, I'm not criticizing, I'm most definitely not warning a reader away. It's the right ending for this story, it's absolutely how things needed to go -- but this is not the Feel-Good Novella of the Year. It is wonderfully written, beautifully written, imaginative, awe-inspiring, delightful, and eventually heartbreaking. McGuire's one of the best at work today -- and this is proof of it.
Yes, you can read these out-of-order -- but I don't recommend it. And hey, were talking 200 pages or less each, you've got time for that. You'll be glad you did (once you stop feeling horrible)
* That might be a bit hyperbolic.