A Door Near Here, by Heather Quarles
(5 / 5)
Katherine Graham is a responsible, hard-working person who has a house to keep up and three children to care for. Age-old story of a working mom, right? Except that Katherine is 15 years old. Katherine’s mother just lost her job and finally succumbed to the inexorable pull of alcoholism. She has barely been conscious for the last five weeks, waking only long enough to drink enough to pass back out in bed. She eats only when pushed to do so, and then only a few nibbles before she’s gone again. No one remains to take care of the kids, so they take it upon themselves to provide their own care while trying to convince the outside world that everything is just fine.
Douglas (14), Tracey (13), Alisa (8) and Katherine herself are completely on their own to build a life for themselves while flying below the Social Services radar. They pool their unique talents – Douglas’ penchant for fixing things and Tracey’s sense of order and fashion – to convince the world that a responsible adult still oversees them. It’s only Alisa who could raise the red flags as she sinks deeper and deeper into the world of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. She daydreams through school, and then spends her free time searching for the magical door that will lead her to Narnia so the lion Aslan can heal her ailing mother.
Finally, it happens. Katherine arrives late for school without parental permission. The result is an unexcused absence, a detention for Katherine, and one nosy Religion teacher that will not butt out of their business. His concern for the welfare of the four children makes it increasingly difficult to keep the family situation secret. When he gets a hold of Alisa’s letter to C.S. Lewis, written as part of a school project, he discovers the realities of their sick mother and a child’s desperate search for the cure that will bring her mom back.
A Door Near Here is the first I ever read by Heather Quarles, found when I was in my late teens and reread since. Some elements of the story were sufficiently familiar that I likely could have related to them at a much younger age, but I doubt every kid can. It’s a rough book to read, I don’t mind admitting, and that’s not overly common in the Young Adult section at the local library. An appropriate age to read this will depend largely on the individual in question – kids that have been exposed to alcoholism may get a little better clarity through this story, but those who have not may just be upset and confused. Overall, though, it’s a can’t-miss for the right readers.
I’m totally impressed by my first introduction to Heather Quarles, and have intended to find more books by her ever since its initial discovery. Quarles’ main characters are well-rounded, easy to picture and, in most cases, easy to like. Even the “meddling teacher” that the kids so disliked could be seen in a sympathetic light, especially when the third-person view reveals his deep concern for their welfare. That said, some of the secondary characters are difficult to picture. They’re there, they’re part of the story, but they’re clearly “left of center” from the Graham kids. As a result, it’s like they’re not in clear focus.
Only read A Door Near Here if you like religious tie-ins. Admittedly, it describes a really rough situation physically and emotionally, so no doubt it’s a great time to bring God (or higher power of your choice) into the picture. Quarles does, and with some insistence and regularity. Bear in mind that the kids go to a private Christian school, so it’s a consistent side note throughout the story after the initial description of conditions in the Graham household.
If you read and liked Cynthia Voigt’s Dicey books (The Tillerman Cycle) or A Solitary Blue, then you’ll undoubtedly like A Door Near Here. It also bears some resemblance to the types of emotions in Flying in Place, by Susan Palwick, but toned down to better suit young readers than that story of an abused girl and her dead sister who met her end through the same treatment. For the record, I thought all of the aforementioned books were excellent and well worth the read. If you thought so too, then it’s very possible that you’ll agree with my star rating for A Door Near Here. Does it still sound like something you’d like to read? Then you’ll probably love it, and don’t hesitate to pick it up at the library or buy it for your own library.
Disclosure statement: I have no affiliation with the author or any other representative of this book. Its publishers, author, agent, or other affiliated individuals have not offered compensation for my review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.