BEYOND THE DOORS by David Neilsen, Crown Books for Young Readers, Aug. 1, 2017, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 8-12)
Last year, I had the opportunity to interview David Neilsen about the release of his debut novel, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. I found his story of an abandoned home that becomes a fantastical playground and the dastardly creator, Dr. Fell, to be creepy, charming and a bit over the top. So when I was handed David’s latest novel, Beyond the Doors, I couldn’t wait to pick it up.
Beyond the Doors follows the four Rothbaum children — Sydney, Zack, Janice and Alexa. When their house unexpectedly burns down leaving their father in a coma, the siblings find themselves at the mercy of child protective services. Just when it seems the quartet will be separated, a long-lost aunt is found.
When the children arrive at Aunt Gladys’ home, they immediately know something strange is going on. For starters, the house has no doors; only a drawbridge offers access to the outside. Then there’s the circular, maze-like quality of the house itself. And don’t even get the kids started on the kitchen full of milk and cereal.
Weirder still is the piles of doors throughout the house. Aunt Gladys makes them promise to not touch any door, which would make sense given there aren’t any actually hanging — not even the bathroom — but there’s something odd about the stacks of them everywhere else.
And then there’s Aunt Gladys. She reluctantly takes the children into her home, but never even bothers to learn their names. She’s more than a little scatterbrained, and she seems to disappear for long stretches at a time. The siblings know all this has something to do with the doors, but when they figure out just what she’s doing, they’re shocked to the core.
Beyond the Doors is Roald Dahl-esque with a Lemony Snicket snarkiness mixed in for good measure. David’s writing is bold and imaginative and accessible in a way that should appeal to middle-graders.
As an adult, I did have a hard time believing any social worker — even one as inept and annoying as the one in this book — would leave four children without someone so clearly unable to care for them. I don’t think this will bother younger readers, though.
The children, for the most part are enjoyable, and it’s fun to go on their adventure “beyond the doors.” However, the pacing in the book is a little slow. What I found myself wishing for was a bad guy along the lines of Dr. Fell, instead there’s this sort of nebulous “them” that isn’t even mentioned until almost 200 pages in. Of course the children discover who/what “them” is later on, but I really wanted someone or something concrete to “pin” things on.
Despite my gripes, Beyond the Doors is an enjoyable read, and David’s unique voice definitely stands out among his contemporaries.
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