Review: Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker

Book: Over the Woodward Wall 

Author: A. Deborah Baker 

Pages: 204 

Source: Owned 

Publisher: Tordotcom 

Genre: Fantasy, Novella, Middle Grade 

Publication Date: October 6, 2020 

Goodreads Summary

If you trust her you’ll never make it home…

Avery is an exceptional child. Everything he does is precise, from the way he washes his face in the morning, to the way he completes his homework – without complaint, without fuss, without prompt.

Zib is also an exceptional child, because all children are, in their own way. But where everything Avery does and is can be measured, nothing Zib does can possibly be predicted, except for the fact that she can always be relied upon to be unpredictable.

They live on the same street.
They live in different worlds.

On an unplanned detour from home to school one morning, Avery and Zib find themselves climbing over a stone wall into the Up and Under – an impossible land filled with mystery, adventure and the strangest creatures.

And they must find themselves and each other if they are to also find their way out and back to their own lives.

My Review:

Over the Woodward Wall is the first book in the Up-and-Under series by Seanan McGuire writing as A. Deborah Baker.  The story follows two children living in an ordinary, safe town.  These children have lived three houses from each other their entire lives, but due to arbitrary circumstances, they have never met.  Each morning Avery wakes up, puts on his nicely pressed clothes and his shined shoes, leaves his  house, and walks to school.  Meanwhile, a few houses away, Hepzibah, or Zib as she’s known until she grows into her name, tumbles out of bed, throws on the first clothes she touches whether they match or not, and runs out of the door in the opposite direction towards her own school. 

That is, until one day each child finds their way to school blocked.  Avery finds the roadway flooded and impassible.  The adults swarming around the burst pipe tell him to find another way around, and Avery being the obedient child he is, walks away to do just that.  A short distance away, Zib finds her path to school blocked by a huge hole in the road caused by a gas explosion.  She too must find a way around, and she wanders off down another street. 

Zib and Avery both wander or walk down the same street seeking a way around to school only to find themselves stopped short by a wall.  It’s a wall that shouldn’t exist, and yet, the only way forward is to climb over it.  Once they climb over the wall, Zib and Avery find themselves in a whole different world with no way back to their own.  They soon learn they must follow the Improbable Road which will take them on countless adventures before it lets them go back home. 

The first thing I really find fascinating about this book, and the entire Up-and-Under series, is that it’s metafiction.  According to Wikipedia, “Metafiction is a form of fiction that emphasizes its own narrative structure in a way that continually reminds the audience that they are reading or viewing a fictional work.”  This happens throughout the story as the narrator makes it clear a story is being told by breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader directly.  It adds another touch of whimsey to a book already filled with whimsical and fantastical things. 

However, understanding where this book and series fit in with Seanan McGuire’s Alchemical Journeys duology makes the metafiction even more interesting.  A. Deborah Baker, the author and apparent narrator of the Up-and-Under series, is a character in the Alchemical Journeys books.  In fact, excerpts from Over the Woodward Wall appear in the first book of the Alchemical Journeys series.  I’m a big fan of interwoven, interconnected worlds and series, so I find this fascinating.  I do still need to finish reading Middlegame and Seasonal Fears, but this year is the year of Seanan McGuire as far as my TBR is concerned. So, I’ll get to them very soon. 

I also really enjoyed how fantastical the world of the Up-and-Under is in this book.  Avery and Zib meet monsters, such as the Bumble Bear which is a bumble bee made bear-sized with claws and teeth, and they travel on the Improbable Road.  The Improbable Road goes where it’s needed, and the more improbably Avery and Zib behave, the more likely it will show up.  This world does have rules, but they are strange and illogical compared to the rules in the real world. 

This poses a problem for Avery.  He is a very logical and rigid boy when the story first begins.  Over the course of the book he becomes much more flexible and is much nicer to be around.  Zib, on the other hand, revels in the adventure and the unknown.  Her learning experience comes from finding out adventures aren’t always safe, and sometimes rules must be followed whether we like them or not.   

Seeing each child move away from their respective extremes was something else I enjoyed about this story. 

Both Avery and Zib also make a few friends during their journey, which is a new experience for them both.  Avery is seen by his peers as being too neat and boring while Zib is seen as being too wild for either of them to easily make friends.  The first friends they make once they cross the wall are each other.  Adversity does tend to forge strong bonds.  However, they can’t make their journey on the Improbable Road alone, and they end up meeting two others to travel with them. 

The first is a girl made of crows or crows that make a girl.  The distinction isn’t always easy to determine. She rescues them from drowning in mud, and she joins them on their journey.  Soon, in addition to Crow Girl, Avery and Zib meet Niamh.  Niamh is a drowned girl locked outside her frozen city under a lake, and she also helps save Avery and Zib from a different ending than they seek.  Both Crow Girl and Niamh help the children both in their journey and in their interactions with each other.  Avery and Zib both learn they are worthy of friendship. 

Overall, I had a good time reading this book, and I can see how kids would enjoy reading it as well.  Even though characters in the book claim Avery and Zib aren’t in a fairy story, that’s essentially what this book is.  The additional connections adults can make to another book series are just an added bonus.  I do see how such a book may not appeal to everyone, and the children do seem to be thrust from one disaster to another.  It was still an enjoyable read, though, and I plan to finish the series. 

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I gave Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker four out of five stars.  At its heart, this is a fairy story about children learning to change and grow up, and it illustrated these changes in fun, fantastical ways.  The connections this book has to adult novels might appeal to older readers seeking more depth in a story.  It’s a quick read that anyone who enjoys the Wayward Children series or Alice in Wonderland may find enjoyable.  Plus, if readers do enjoy it, there are two more novellas in this series with the final novella planned for publication in 2023. 

Have you read this book?  How about any books in the Alchemical Journeys?  What did you think? Let me know in the comments! 

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