Review: Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

Review: Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuireAcross the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6) by Seanan McGuire
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: portal fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Wayward Children #6
Pages: 174
Published by Tordotcom on January 12, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A young girl discovers a portal to a land filled with centaurs and unicorns in Seanan McGuire's Across the Green Grass Fields, a standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-wining Wayward Children series.
“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”
Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.
When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to "Be Sure" before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines―a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.
But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…

My Review:

Across the Green Grass Fields is the sixth book in the multi-award-winning Wayward Children series. It also seems to be the first book in the series that does not somehow center around Miss West’s Home for Wayward Children.

Not that the ending of this one doesn’t lead the reader to wonder if Regan, the central figure of this particular story, isn’t going to wind up at Miss West’s sometime after the book ends. Not after the story ends, because like the best of stories, this doesn’t feel like it ended so much as it feels like the author has moved her gaze away from Regan onto the next child and more importantly, the next doorway.

If the first book in the series, Every Heart a Doorway, read as post-Narnia, a look at the lives of children much like the Pevensie children AFTER they came back from Narnia and had to adjust to being children and commoners and depressingly normal again. Or whatever normal they each managed to approximate.

Because you have to wonder just how hard that “normal” was to fake. Based on what happens to the children who have come to Miss West’s, that faking is NOT EASY very much in all caps.

But Across the Green Grass Fields is Regan’s story, but not Regan’s story of re-adjustment. Instead, it’s the story of Regan as she finds her own special doorway, the one that leads her to the place her heart calls home.

Regan’s doorway leads to the Hooflands, a place filled with centaurs and unicorns and kelpies and every other kind of mythical creature that has hooves – with or without unicorn horns. The Hooflands are Regan’s special place because Regan, like many young girls, loves horses.

But the reason that the doorway between our world and the Hooflands has opened at all is because the Hooflands need a human at this moment in their history as much as Regan wants a place to escape to.

The Hooflands need a human to rescue them from something terrible, even if the centaur herd that adopts Regan doesn’t yet know what that terrible something is. And Regan needs time to come to terms with being, not so much perfect in itself as no human is perfect, but with being perfectly Regan – no matter what anyone else, not even her ultra-conformist and uber-bitchy former best friend has to say about it.

Escape Rating A: One of the things that the beginning of this story conveys extremely well is just how vicious and cutthroat playground “politics” can be among grade school children – especially girls. And just how parents seem to forget that fact when they reach adulthood.

I know that’s a strange place to start but then this was a bit of a strange book at the start for me. I loved it but also found the opening a bit hard of a read. When Regan first learns just how truly vicious her best friend Laurel can be, after Laurel rejects and ostracizes their former friend Heather for violating Laurel’s rigid rules about what constitutes girlhood, I was right there for all of it. I was a Heather, someone who colored outside those lines when I was 5 or 6 and spent the following years in virtual isolation because there was a Queen Bee just like Laurel who determined that I was less than nothing and enforced that over the whole playground and classroom. And I know I’m not the only person who went through that experience. It happens, it happens a lot and it still happens as this book clearly shows.

So that part was so hard and so real.

We can all see Regan’s coming falling out – or rather her being pushed away – from Laurel long before it does. There’s already a part of her that wants to do more things and different things from her controlling “best friend”, an impulse that’s only going to get stronger as the girls get older and develop separate interests.

But puberty arrives first, and brings Regan’s world crashing down. Because in the competitive race to maturity among those little girls, Regan is not merely losing, but is being left behind. And every one of those little girls makes her feel it.

When Regan learns that she is intersex, it answers her questions but leaves her feeling deceived by her parents – they’ve always known that she had XY chromosomes instead of the expected XX – and needing to vent to her best friend about the injustice of it all.

Only to face utter, humiliating rejection. Followed by that desperate run towards the door that will take her to the Hooflands, a place where she’ll be the only human anyone has ever seen. Where she’ll have time to deal with her feelings about being different from other humans without having to deal with other humans.

At least not until she has to meet her destiny and save the Hooflands.

There’s so much that ends up packed into this story. And all of it ends up being pretty much awesome.

On the one hand – or hoof – there’s Regan who, in spite of her constant trying is not going to be able to shoehorn herself into Laurel’s tiny box of girlhood. A fact that actually has little to do with chromosomes and everything to do with Laurel’s box in specific and society’s box in general being too tight and too constraining and too restrictive to fit lots of humans who are born female or appear female – and for that matter lots of humans who are born male or appear male. Strict gender roles are a straitjacket for everyone.

On top of that – or on another hoof – in addition to the whole concept about gender being destiny being complete BS – while Regan is in the Hooflands she also has to deal with the local concept of species being destiny. Or at least the local myths, legends and history that all say that a human comes through a door because the Hooflands needs someone to fight some great evil. And that the fight with evil somehow requires not just opposable but downright flexible thumbs.

Regan, being the human who has just walked through their door, is therefore destined to save the Hooflands and then leave everyone she has come to love behind. Whether she wants to or not.

It’s not just that species is destiny with a capital D. Regan is still a child. Even if the local people – and they are all people who just happen to have hooves instead of or in addition to hands – believe she must save them from whatever, Regan knows she’s not ready to save anyone, at least not yet.

Very much like the young protagonist of the utterly awesome A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, Regan can’t help but question why the hell the adults in the Hooflands are not taking matters into their own hooves and hands and saving themselves. It should not be up to her just because she’s human. It should be up to them, not just because it’s their world but because dammit they are GROWNUPS!

On top of, and underneath and woven all through, there’s an adventure story about a girl who loves horses getting to live in a place that’s all horses all the time. She gets to find a family and become part of a community and discover the best of friendship and the worst of people all at the same time. And it’s lovely.

It also makes Regan’s ultimate sacrifice all that much more heartbreaking.

Excuse me, there seems to be a bit of dust in this post.

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