By Liz Rahn
My go-to books typically fall into literary fiction. I gravitate toward books with heavy emotional content, dealing with lofty, introspective themes. But those books tend to weigh on me after a while and I like to change it up something lighter, more fun. And I’m very happy with my last pick.
THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY by Alix E. Harrow is a delightfully magical coming-of-age story about an adolescent girl growing up in the care of a wealthy archeologist, but never quite fitting in. January Scaller and her father Julian have dark skin, while everyone else in Vermont in the early 1900s does not. The wealthy archeologist, Mr. Locke, is a sort of patron to the Scallers – January lives day to day in the care of Mr. Locke while her father travels to far off and exoctic places, collecting antiquities and curious artifacts for Locke to display in his enormous house. Each room is filled with display cases and labels of the things Julian collects on his long trips away from home, returning once every few months for only a handful of days at a time before leaving again.
Always feeling more like a specimen in Locke House than a guest, January seeks solace in books. At first it’s classics and dime novels of the day, but she finds a book called The Ten Thousand Doors tucked away in a familiar chest in one of the display rooms of Locke House. This book talks of secret Doors, fissures in the fabric of the universe that connect January’s world to others. The more she reads, the more connected she feels to the story and its call to adventure. It even reveals secrets about her mostly unknown past, her absent father, and even revelations about her mother who died when she was very young. And thus, adventure ensues.
What I loved about this book is January’s feisty nature. She is inquisitive and bull-headed in spite of constantly being told to mind her place. From the first pages, you know you’re going to love her. Her development throughout the story of her finding her strength is incredibly well done.
The other thing that made this book my favorite of 2019 was the story chasing. In order to find these Doors to other worlds, the characters follow legends and rumors of certain places. Places where people have mysteriously vanished in the tundra only to turn up days later with a sunburn, or rumor of a woman who climbed a mountain in Colorado and came back smelling like the sea. Rather than dismiss these stories as unfounded or unrealistic, the characters follow these stories to uncover these other worlds and learn from the people there.
I know I’m at risk of sounding too on-the-nose, but that’s what all books are, right? A sort of passage to another world where you can experience someone else’s reality and share stories? THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY is a celebration of stories and words and the power they have to change lives. I know it sounds kitschy, but Harrow weaves this sentiment into the story so lightly that the truth of it overrides any sense of pandering.
This book was Alix Harrow’s debut, and I am so looking forward to whatever she writes next.
Liz Rahn is one of our agents at Red Sofa Literary. She graduated from Concordia College with degrees in English Literature and History. She was in the 2015 class of the Denver Publishing Institute and does freelance editing in addition to her work with Red Sofa Literary. She has worked on a range of books from young adult, literary, social science, and academic writing, and she’s excited to tap into the word of foreign rights and audiobooks. In her spare time, if she’s not reading, she’s probably walking her dog or playing video games.