The best words I can think of to describe The Door in the Forest, by Roderick Townley, are “unique” and “vague.” Unique because Townley takes everyday themes like death, war and rebellion and weaves around them a tale unlike anything I’ve ever read before. With a little magic, the focus suddenly leaves the commonplace and shifts to the surreal, the mystical, the little-understood but oh-so-important island guarded by the Byrdsong family. Making very effective use of a repeating curtain metaphor, Townley explores topics just beyond our range of factual knowledge, like death, superstition, time travel and secrets.
I’d say vague because, though Townley spins out a wonderfully engaging tale, one that dishes out information slowly and tantalizingly, I still felt some confusion even at the end of the book. Like, what was the war about anyway? And where does the story take place? It references World War One as having ended four years previously, yet soldiers remain active, refuges flood from the city and the Uncertainties (a term for armed conflict, I think) continue in parts of this country. But what country? This bizarre combination of history and make believe left me feeling a bit unsettled. Yet at the same time, this vagueness becomes the curtain metaphor.
I love Emily Byrdson, an unreadable, mystical figure herself, and her grandmother who reads the future in soap bubbles. Two brothers, Danny, the boy who cannot lie, and Wes join with Emily and work together to reach the island. They return determined to save it from the soldiers intent on destroying it.
I totally enjoyed Mr. Townley’s cunning descriptions, word pictures and comparisons. Again and again I found myself thinking, that’s such a perfect way to say it. For example: “The sky was still blue overhead, but the trees deeply shadowed, as if they knew more about night than the rest of us.” Precise and appropriate. His language, however, isn’t always so exemplary. Several mild profanities punctuate statements, making them bolder, more emotional. But they could have been left out. At this age, they should have been left out.
I hardly can describe this book further. My mind still feels a little cobwebby from trying to figure out what I just read. I carry away the vagueness and uncertainty of its pages, yet I can firmly say I enjoyed the journey through Mr. Townley’s unparalleled imagination.