N. D. Wilson
Henry York is a timid, sheltered 12-year-old who finds himself uprooted and transplanted to a small Kansas town in the middle of nowhere to live with his aunt, uncle, and three girl cousins. Then Henry discovers 99 small and mysterious cupboards under a layer of plaster on the wall of his new bedroom. And following good, old-fashioned fantasy tradition, the cupboards each appear to lead to a different place…places which range from mundane to terrifying.
I enjoyed the narrative style of this book, with its quirky settings, characters, and humor. I think my favorite part about it was the portrayal of Henry’s gradual awakening to the broadness of the world and its wonders. In the wide-open limitless spaces of Kansas, the sheltered Henry comes out of his shell: in the beginning of the book, he feels daring when he doesn’t put his seatbelt on in his uncle’s old bouncy truck; by the end of the story, he’s facing down an evil witch with stalwart courage. He takes on the intensely intimidating challenge of a baseball and catcher’s mitt with the same trepidation with which he faces a life-or-death rescue mission in an otherworldly haunted hall. And his simple acceptance of both baseball and magic cupboards on the same terms is refreshing — he experiences all new things with the same delightfully non-jaded simplicity. It’s worthwhile to be reminded that an experience need not be supernatural to be magical, and Henry’s attitude toward life reminded me of the child-like faith which Christ calls upon his followers to have.
There will definitely be a sequel to this book, at least according to the author’s bio, and I think it is in looking forward to the sequel that this volume loses some of its charm and finesse. The first two-thirds or so of the book don’t include a lot of action, though there are enough interesting characters, quirky dialogue, and well-crafted descriptions that it doesn’t drag at all; in fact, I found the pacing to be steady and entertaining. However, Wilson seems to have crammed the entire book’s worth of action sequences (as well as a couple of extra characters) into its last third in an attempt to set the story up for a sequel. This maneuver did not work exactly as planned, at least in my opinion — with the well-crafted pacing as a casualty, the story mostly just got really confusing, as it became instantly overloaded with a large number of unexplained back-story references and a random surprise appearance by an evil sorceress. It all felt like a bit much, which was too bad, because overall the book made for a fun read.