Review: Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire

Book: Where the Drowned Girls Go

Author: Seanan McGuire

Pages: 160

Series: The Wayward Children, #7

Source: NetGalley

Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism

Release Date: January 4th, 2022

Goodreads Summary:

Welcome to the Whitethorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help, and you’ve already taken that step by requesting a transfer into our company.

There is another school for children who fall through doors and fall back out again.
It isn’t as friendly as Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
And it isn’t as safe.

When Eleanor West decided to open her school, her sanctuary, her Home for Wayward Children, she knew from the beginning that there would be children she couldn’t save; when Cora decides she needs a different direction, a different fate, a different prophecy, Miss West reluctantly agrees to transfer her to the other school, where things are run very differently by Whitethorn, the Headmaster.

She will soon discover that not all doors are welcoming… 

My Review:

Where the Drowned Girls Go is the seventh installment in Seanan McGuire’s the Wayward Children series of fantasy novellas due to release January 4, 2022. I was lucky enough to be approved for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book by McMillan/Tor-Forge and Tordotcom via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Tor-Forge!

I first discovered the Wayward Children series in January of this year. I was browsing Goodreads, and I saw the first book, Every Heart a Doorway, in my suggestions list. Both the title and cover of the book intrigued me, so I checked the first one out from my local library. This quickly led to me binging my way through the entire series over the course of a week. Needless to say, when I was approved for an ARC of Where the Drowned Girls Go I couldn’t have been more excited!

The world of the Wayward Children is largely based on the idea that what if children like Alice in Wonderland were real? What if they found a doorway into another world, but that world turned out to be the one meant for them; the one that’s absolutely perfect for them? What happens to these children when they accidentally tumble back into this world and are left forever seeking their one true home again?

That’s where Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children comes in. The school is run by it’s namesake Eleanor West, and she too has been through her own doorway. She understands what each of these children is going through, and she seeks to help them “Be Sure” as each doorway instructs. Once the children are sure they want to return to their world, their doorways should reappear. This doesn’t always happen.

It’s with these ideas in mind that each novella in the series dives into the stories of different children attending Eleanor West’s school. Sometimes they find a doorway that leads to breaking one of the biggest rules of the school: No quests. These quests don’t always go well for everyone involved. The worlds may be exactly what each child needs, but that doesn’t mean they are safe.

Where the Drowned Girls Go picks up several months after one such quest with a teenaged girl named Cora. Cora is a mermaid of a world known as The Trenches. At least, she thinks she is. Unfortunately, after the quest to a world known as The Moors – a treacherous world filled with endless grasslands, vampires, and a blood-red Moon that looms over it all – Cora isn’t so sure where she belongs anymore. The Drowned Gods of the Moors tried to claim her while she was there, and her skin still shimmers with their touch. She still hears their whispers in the dark.

Fortunately, Cora remembers there is another school for people like her. The Whitethorn Institute is the counterpart for Eleanor West’s school. It teaches the children to forget their doors and move on with their lives in this world. Cora thinks if she can forget some of the magic that’s attached to her, the Drowned Gods will lose their hold on her. Then, she can focus on finding The Trenches and becoming the hero she was there once again.

However, things are not what they seem at the Whitethorn Institute. It’s a harsh and unforgiving place, and the rest of the novella explores whether Cora hasn’t made a terrible mistake. She may not be able to escape it if she has.

One of the things that I enjoy most about the Wayward Children series is how real and relatable all of the children are. It’s so easy for the reader to see bits of themselves in each character, and some characters spoke so completely to me that I was totally invested in their journeys.

For example, Cora grew up the fat kid. It wasn’t through any fault of her own. It was just her genetics forcing her body to hold onto the weight. She ate well, exercised, and doctors said she was perfectly healthy, but as we all know, our peers can be extremely unkind to differences in others. This unkindness led Cora on a self-defeating journey of attempted weight loss that eventually harmed her mental health. She had no self-confidence until she went to the Trenches and became a hero, in part because of the very things she was made fun of for in this world.

I think we’ve all been through situations like that growing up. So, when Cora finally makes friends it really means something to her. She went through what some of us would describe as a hell-world, and now she has these Lovecraftian Drowned Gods trying to pull her back. She obviously suffers some PTSD from the events of the previous novella, and I think any of us would do anything to escape that experience.

Cora’s desire to join the Whitethorn Institute was an attempt to forget the bad things that had happened to her. Unfortunately, that’s not all the leader of the Institute wanted her to forget. She had to learn to embrace what was different about herself and find her self-confidence and courage again to combat her demons herself. She didn’t do it alone, but that was all part of the journey. Even when she eventually gets what she wants, she has learned to accept that it will still be there when she needs it. When she’s ready.

Ultimately, I think the message of this novella was it takes time to learn from the past and to learn to accept ourselves for who we are. That’s what the doorways mean when they ask the children to “Be Sure.” Be sure this is who you are because only surety in oneself can lead one to the life one is meant to live.

All of that being said. I feel like this novella introduced a new “Big Villain,” and I can’t wait to see where Seanan McGuire goes with it. Sure there are magical entities from other worlds that can creep through their doorways to snatch you, but what about the evil magic in this world? With at least three more novellas planned in the series plus the exciting news that the series is in development for a potential franchise at Paramount, I don’t think we’ve seen anywhere near the last of the Wayward Children.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I gave Where the Drowned Girls Go four out of five stars. It is a beautifully crafted story of a girl longing to belong and begging to forget while learning to believe in herself. Seanan McGuire is able to capture in words things I’ve only ever felt but that are articulated perfectly on the page. However, some readers may find the mentions of eating disorders, suicide attempts, descriptions of post traumatic stress, and child abuse and neglect difficult to absorb. The descriptions aren’t graphic, and they are important to plot and character development. If you can look past the triggers, I definitely recommend this entire series!

Have you read any of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series? Are you looking forward to the newest installment? What do you think of the plans for screen adaptations? Let me know in the comments below!

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