This book has been sitting on my nightstand for months. I devoured the first two books in this series, and quickly added them to my list of favorites, but I was hesitant about reading this latest installment. Why? The third Wayward Children book, Beneath the Sugar Sky, was a huuuuuuge disappointment. It lacked the magic of the first two books. Reading that book and discovering it to be nothing like the first two books was profoundly disappointing, and I kept putting off reading this book because I was worried that it would be similarly disappointing.
Was I ever wrong.
In an Absent Dream may very well be my new favorite book in the series (or perhaps my second favorite book, after Every Heart a Doorway). McGuire is back. This book is every bit as magical and wonderful and beautiful as her first Wayward Children books. I know a lot of people were disappointed with Beneath the Sugar Sky, but please, don’t let that stop you from reading In an Absent Dream. Trust me!
This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.
When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.
This book is about Lundy, the childlike counselor/right-hand man to the school’s headmaster, who was a supporting character in the first book. In the first book, we learn that she ages very slowly and backward, kind of like Benjamin Button. In this book, we learn the story behind her anti-aging, but the book isn’t simply telling that one story. Lundy was a kid just like the other Wayward Children, who stumbled down a doorway into a Wonderland tailored just for her. In an Absent Dream tells Lundy’s story – who she was as a child, what world drew her in and why, and, of course, why she couldn’t stay, and where she went afterward.
This book was much more of an emotional read for me than the earlier installments in the series (especially Beneath the Sugar Sky), which are more whimsical. In an Absent Dream is a true coming-of-age story. I had SO MANY FEELINGS after finishing this book, and I’m still not entirely recovered.
“Of such commonplace contradictions are weapons made. Katherine Lundy walked in the world. That was quite enough to set everything else into motion.”
I felt more of a connection with Lundy than I have with any other Wayward Children. At first, her character seems a little bit bland – she’s the principal’s daughter, a bookworm, a rule follower. Quiet. She definitely isn’t as distinct as some of McGuire’s other heroes, but that’s exactly what sets her apart. She is a normal girl, perhaps a bit of a loner, living in the 1960s, with a normal family. I was drawn to her quiet bookishness. Each of McGuire’s Wayward Children books feature a different type of child who ends up in a (very) different type of world. Following my connection with Lundy, I feel like if I opened one of McGuire’s doors, it would lead me to a world very similar to Lundy’s Goblin Market.
I looooooved the Goblin Market. It’s different from McGuire’s other worlds in that children are able to freely travel back and forth between their home world and through the Doorway to this one, at least until their 18th birthday. McGuire’s other worlds aren’t so readily accessible, and it’s interesting to compare Lundy’s experience with the experiences of the other Wayward Children, who only went down the doorway once and then spent years trying to find it again. But… this feature doesn’t work out so well for Lundy, which absolutely broke my heart. The flexibility of traveling to this world made Lundy’s journey less ominous and less urgent than the journeys in the other books, where the children only get that one chance to decide whether to stay forever or to go home. McGuire is tricky, though – she lulls us into a false sense of security then hits us with a sucker punch to the heart. It hurts so good.
The Goblin Market is definitely one of my favorite worlds, right up there with the world the twins went to in Down Among the Sticks and Bones. There are centaurs, birds, children turning into birds, and a complex yet intuitive system of rules. I love rules (which is maybe why I went to law school), so this world really resonated with me. And the characters from this world! The Archivist, who I imagine as an ancient librarian, guides Lundy like Virgil leading Dante through the Inferno. And, of course, Moon. Lundy doesn’t have any friends in her home world, but she meets Moon, her best friend, at the Goblin Market. Their friendship was one of my favorite things about this book.
I love this book so much. It is absolutely one of my favorite reads of 2019. Please, please, please… read this book. If you haven’t read the rest of the series, start here.