Published by HarperTeen
Published on 23 October 2018
Genres: 20th Century, Fantasy, Young Adult
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Five years ago, Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell cowered from air strikes in a London bomb shelter. But that night took a turn when the sisters were transported to another realm called the Woodlands. In a forest kingdom populated by creatures out of myth and legend, they found temporary refuge.
When Ev and Phil finally returned to London, nothing had changed at all—nothing, except themselves.
Now, Evelyn spends her days sneaking into the woods outside her boarding school, wishing for the Woodlands. Overcome with longing, she is desperate to return no matter what it takes.
Philippa, on the other hand, is determined to find a place in this world. She shields herself behind a flawless exterior and countless friends, and moves to America to escape the memory of what was.
But when Evelyn goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.
Content warnings are available via the author's website: https://www.lauraeweymouth.com/books
I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Some people will see this as a loving homage to Narnia, with similar elements easily identified: Lucy, Susan and Peter are obviously Evelyn, Philippa, and Jamie, with Aslan recreated in Cervus the stag, and the Woodlands creatures shadows of Narnia natives.
Others will see it as a Narnia rip off.
For me, I like to think the author was so deeply inspired by Narnia and what happened after that this is almost an alt fanfiction. The similarities simply cannot be forgotten and unfortunately they pale somewhat in comparison – but then again, because we get to see from Evelyn and Philippa’s point of view, it’s also quite a modern YA take on a classic MG story, and it’s an original story in its own right. It makes dealing with the aftermath of Narnia more intimate. Let’s be clear: CS Lewis didn’t like Susan, and that’s why she couldn’t go back to Narnia once she grew up and got interested in ‘silly girly’ things like makeup and boys. The Light Between Worlds treats growing up – an inevitability, despite what JM Barrie says about Peter Pan – very differently. Philippa wears lipstick and heels as a weapon.
But I really struggled with this book. It has a fantastic elevator pitch: ‘What happens to the children after they return from Narnia’ – bam! Sounds amazing.
But the execution of this highly sellable idea was severely lacking.
If you want to read a book where nothing much happens, and then Evie disappears, and then MORE nothing much happens, then you’re in for a treat!
I found the lack of action very frustrating. I didn’t so much mind that Evie gave us alternate chapters in the real world and in the Woodlands… except that what was going on in the real world was SO BORING. We followed Evie around in her pity party and I tell you, it was not a nice place to stay. Her behaviour was so odd, especially since she’s very obviously depressed and no one gave a shit about mental illness in the 19050s. Everyone treated Evie like she’s suffered some great loss, but no one would talk about it, they just let her mope about and walk in the rain with no shoes and do the school’s gardening. But the thing I found was that ALL of the girls at Evie’s school would have gone through some sort of trauma – they were all old enough to have experienced the war – but no one else was left a key so they could sneak out with the secret approval of a Literature professor. No one else was allowed to mope about in bed for days. No one else was allowed out to wander in the rain and off campus. Evie’s pain obviously came from not being in the Woodlands, but other girls would have been experiencing a similar pain with the aftermath of a world war.
Or maybe they all did suffer as much as Evie, but we were being held at arm’s length from her – not close enough to know what she was REALLY thinking, but not far enough back that we could objectively see how other characters suffered, too.
Basically the only reason I kept going was because I wanted to know if this was going to be a magical realism book or more of a drama: did Evie die or was her disappearance linked to the Woodlands again? So I kept reading, on to Philippa’s section.
After trailing Evie and her non-action moping, I really wanted Philippa to take action. Instead, she comes home from America, falls into a job, and basically does nothing. No investigating, no questioning, no going through Evie’s things. She visits the ‘crime scene’ at night during a gale, barely glances at it, and goes away again. She goes to the police not to help with the investigation, but to take the letters Evie sent her that she never read, and get abused by the detective just to make her feel more guilty. She travels a long way to barely question the last person who saw Evie, taking the blame off them and placing it firmly on herself. I wanted her to DO something. What was the point of coming home from America? She doesn’t influence anything, the plot doesn’t move forward because there’s nothing to act upon or react against. She even says,
“I understand that it’s foolish for me to expect to find anything, but I can’t stop looking. I owe it to my sister, to ask all the questions, to turn over all the stones.”
And I’m sitting there screaming because she hasn’t done anything. She’s asked maybe one or two people maybe one or two questions. She didn’t really look where Evie disappeared. She didn’t look anywhere else. She didn’t really look at all, because she was too busy going to work in London and being sad.
This was a novel of inaction, and it really frustrated me.
But on the positive side, the sections devoted to the Woodlands were… basically rehashes of things we’ve already seen in The Chronicles of Narnia. I think the only reason we got such an in depth look at it was for the readers who haven’t read Narnia… but then I wondered, is that who the target audience is? All of the obvious references to Narnia are there for us to recognise, but what if we don’t? Could this novel still be enjoyed by someone who hasn’t read or doesn’t love Narnia?
That’s not up to me to decide.
For the record, I have read and did enjoy Narnia, but I don’t think it’s the pinnacle of children’s literature.
Another positive was that there is disability recognition in this novel. There really should be, because it’s set so soon after the war, and there were a lot of disabled vets in London.
The writing itself was fine enough, not really that memorable but nothing difficult or unfortunate to read. I did find it frustrating how confrontations fizzled out and went nowhere, and whenever we were building up to an interesting scene, it skipped over that part and ploughed on with more moping. There was a really huge deal out of some amazing big argument/throwdown Evie and Phil had that led to Phil moving to America… but it turned out to be a very gentle conversation.
Overall I can’t feel like I can offer a suggestion on whether I think you’ll like it or not. Even if you did like Narnia, you might find this too unoriginal. If you’ve never read Narnia, you might not feel the same kind of affection that I wanted to feel for this novel. Although it was reasonably enjoyable to read, I found it lacking in certain areas and I finished the book just kind of wanting more.