‘Beneath the Sugar Sky’ by Seanan McGuire



‘Beneath the Sugar Sky’, the third book in McGuire’s Wayward Children series, returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children in a standalone contemporary fantasy for fans of all ages. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.
When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. But Rini can’t let reality get in the way of her quest – not when she has an entire world to save. If she can’t find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn’t have long before reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests…
A tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do. Warning: May contain nuts.

About the book

If you enjoyed the first two books in the Wayward Children series, there is no reason not to like this. McGuire is back with a new story, featuring both familiar faces and some newbies too. This latest adventure in the portal world sees the characters heading into the land of Confection (Candy Land, in other words), a place described in almost sickening sweetness, from its Strawberry Sea to the sugar-spun ropes.
With ‘Beneath the Sugar Sky’, readers return to the world or rather to the worlds of the Wayward Children. We see more of the many worlds and travel to two well-known and polar opposite worlds – the Halls of the Dead and Confection. We also see many beloved characters from the previous books including Christopher who is a Mexican-American from Mariposa, a skeleton from Underworld, and Kade, a transexual boy from a warring Fairyland; we also meet many new characters such as Cora, a plus-sized girl from the Land Beneath the Lake, Nadya, who is missing an arm and hails from Belyyreka, a Drowned World, and Rini from Confection who has a very special connection to Sumi.
However, there are some downsides to this novel too, the main issue being that everything is way too easy. In ‘Every Heart a Doorway’ and ‘Down Among the Sticks and Bones’, children go to insane lengths to open their portal, and here they are hopping between worlds with minimal effort. All the characters’ struggles are cheapened. Travel between worlds is cheapened. Even death is cheapened. Many reviewers praise the book for its amazing representation and diversity, and for a good reason. However, it’s not perfect, and the problems are worth highlighting. We have a child born without an arm, who has no problem with this and rejects useless prosthetics, thinking they are more cosmetic than functional. This is great but then she goes to her portal world and gets a magic arm. This sets her apart from all other children as none of them have their source of difference “fixed” in the portal world. Cora doesn’t magically become thin. That would have been absurd but then why does Nadya need fixing? It would have been nice for differently-abled kids reading this story to see they can have fun adventures and a fulfilling life just the way they are. However, there are far more pros than cons to this story. For example, every book in this series has amazing diversity and representation, and this book is no different. From race, sexuality, mental illnesses, and body representation to physical disabilities, and religious representation, this series has it all. And it’s seamlessly woven and never feels exploitative. 

Memorable quotes

“There is kindness in the world if we know how to look for it. If we never start denying the door”
“That’s why people shouldn’t get too hung up on labels. Sometimes I think that’s part of what we do wrong. We try to make things make sense, even when they’re never going to”
“Sometimes that’s all you can do. Just keep getting through until you don’t have to do it anymore, however much time that takes, however difficult it is”
“For others, the lure of a world where they fit is too great to escape, and they will spend the rest of their lives rattling at windows and peering at locks, trying to find the way home”
“Adults can still tumble down rabbit holes and into enchanted wardrobes, but it happens less and less with every year they live. Maybe this is a natural consequence of living in a world where being careful is a necessary survival trait, where logic wears away the potential for something bigger and better than the obvious”
“Adulthood brings limitations like gravity and linear space and the idea that bedtime is a real thing, and not an artificially imposed curfew”
“We’re all puzzle boxes, skeleton, and skin, soul and shadow”
“Grave robbing was still viewed as socially inappropriate, and doing it when the sun was up was generally viewed as unwise”
“Everything did, if left long enough to its own devices. Futures, pasts, it didn’t matter. Everything fell apart”
“He liked the excuse to talk to people about their shared differences, which became their shared similarities when held up to the right light. They had all survived something. The fact that they had survived different somethings didn’t change the fact that they would always be, in certain ways, the same”
“Magical thinking might seem like nonsense to some people, but he had danced with skeletons by the light of a marigold moon, he had kissed the glimmering skull of a girl with no lips and loved her as he had never loved anything or anyone in his life, and he thought he’d earned a certain amount of nonsense, as long as it helped him get by”
“Everyone who wound up at Eleanor West’s School – everyone who found a doorway – understood what it was to spend a lifetime waiting for something that other people wouldn’t necessarily understand. Not because they were better than other people and not because they were worse, but because they had a need trapped somewhere in their bones, gnawing constantly, trying to get out”
“Becoming the savior of a world of wonder and magic before you turn 14 does not exactly teach caution, in most cases, and many of the children who fall through the cracks in the world where they were born will one day find themselves opening the wrong door, peering through the wrong keyhole, and standing right back where they started. For some, this is a blessing. For some, it is easy to put the adventures and the impossibilities of the past behind them, choosing sanity and predictability and the world that they were born to be a part of. For others….
For others, the lure of a world where they fit is too great to escape, and they will spend the rest of their lives rattling at windows and peering at locks, trying to find the way home. Trying to find the one perfect door that can take them there, despite everything, despite the unlikeliness of it all”