I gave this book to Dancer Daughter and to Organizer Daughter to read after I finished it because I liked it so much. They read the blurb on the back of the book and informed me that they weren’t interested in a book about an alcoholic family nor in a book about a little girl who tries to enter Narnia. I tried to tell them that the book wasn’t really about either of those topics, even though it contains those elements. I’ll try again here.
A Door Near Here is the story of Katherine, Douglas, Tracey and Alisa. Katherine is only fifteen years old, but since her mother went to bed with a bottle, literally, Katherine is the only one left to hold the family together. The four children can’t turn to their estranged and remarried dad because:
a) he has a new family now and doesn’t want to know that the family he abandoned is in trouble. Dad just pays his child support and stays far away.
b) Alisa, the youngest and most vulnerable of the children, isn’t Dad’s child. She was born after Dad left, and he’s not interested in her at all.
So Katherine knows that if she wants to keep the family together, if she wants to protect her mother, if she wants to take care of Alisa, she must be the adult and, above all, keep her mother’s alcoholic breakdown a secret. It’s obvious from the beginning that this forced foray into responsible adulthood will never work. Even kids, reading how Katherine tries to figure out how to make the food stretch and keep the bills paid and get the kids and herself to school everyday and keep it all a secret, will realize that the plot is doomed. Superwoman couldn’t pull it off. But Katherine tries, and it’s morbidly fascinating to read and see how, whether, they will pull themselves out of this mess.
Then, there’s Alisa. Eight year old Alisa copes with the breakdown of her family by writing letters to C.S. Lewis. By reading the Narnia books over and over and over. By trying to find a door into Narnia where she believes she can find a cure for mom. Of course, Katherine knows Narnia is a fantasy, and she’s fairly sure C.S. Lewis is dead. But how do you deal with a beloved little sister who believes, who needs to believe?
This book is well worth finding. It was published in 2000 by Delacorte as the winner of its prize for a first YA novel. Unfortunately, it also appears to be Ms. Quarles’s last novel. I can’t find that she’s had anything else published since 2000.
TadMack at Finding Wonderland: “It is a powerful and heartfelt book which, for reasons of its authentic voice and timeless truths, cracked my heart when I first read it in 2001. The MFA thesis of author Heather Quarles, this book combines a family story and an exploration of belief to create a book painful in its clarity.”
Dona Patrick at Revish: “The book, A Door Near Here, is not the light fiction/fantasy I was expecting. It is a very heavy story about alcoholism that resulted in child neglect. It is about four siblings who stuck together and survived a very nasty part of their lives.”
Julie Berry: “Exceptional realism grappling with parental abandonment and neglect, and a haunting, lovely tribute to Lewis and his legacy. Strongly recommended.”