Book Review: 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson

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A reader named Emily sent me feedback saying I should read this book. Over the years I have become quite jaded about reader recommendations. Once or twice a year I forward a few hundred of them to the editors at MuggleNet and have them added to the Reader Recommended Titles list. Other than that, I don’t concern myself much with what other people say I should read. I already have plans to read more books than I have time for. But then Emily wrote me a five-sentence email about 100 Cupboards and something she said – I really can’t remember what it was – intrigued me enough to go to a bookstore. After I read what the dust-jacket said about it, I decided I had to read this book right away – hardcover or not. And I did. And now I thank Emily for nudging me toward the first book in a new fantasy series that I will surely, and eagerly, follow.

It begins when a boy named Henry steps off the bus in the small, remote town of Henry, Kansas. He has come to stay for a while with his Aunt Dotty and Uncle Frank, who at first remind one of the couple in the painting American Gothic, and with his cousins Penny, Anastasia, and (ha, ha) Henrietta. How long a while? Possibly forever, because Henry’s parents have been kidnapped in Colombia and there is no way to be sure they’ll ever come home. How does Henry feel about this? He feels guilty, in the second place, because in the first place he feels relieved. Henry’s parents have raised him to fear everything. This has made it hard for him to fit in with other kids his age, hard to learn to do things he wants to do – like playing baseball – and really hard, as he soon finds out, to master his own fear and act with decisiveness and courage.

But the town called Henry will soon give the boy called Henry a chance to do all those things. It will be good practice. Especially the last bit. Because he will need to make courageous decisions as a terrifying, magical adventure unfolds around him. And he will need courage to face the question about who he really is and where he came from.

For Henry’s real parents aren’t the ones being held captive in Colombia. They are somewhere in another world, a world that exists perhaps in another time or another universe. Whatever world it is, though, there is a door that leads to it somewhere in the farmhouse owned by Uncle Frank and Aunt Dotty. It’ll be one of the 99 worlds behind the 99 cupboard doors that Henry finds behind the plaster in his bedroom. But before he can find the world where he truly belongs, he must face a series of threatening letters from one of those worlds, a tremendously evil witch from another, and the ominous secret that lurks behind the door that no one has been able to open for two years. He will have to plunge into one hair-raisingly perilous world after another to save one of his cousins who has gotten lost. He will emerge with new friends, new enemies, and at least a hundred possibilities in store for his next adventure.

I immensely enjoyed this quirky, thrilling fantasy. I sympathized with Henry – I hate to say in how many ways – yet enjoyed a private snicker at the burn notice that addressed him as “Whimpering Child.” I adored each individual in his family, from the quietly amazing Uncle Frank to the snotty little monster Anastasia. I stood in awe at the intellect, sensitivity, and originality evident in its writing. And I pass on to you what Emily passed on to me: a love of this book that I hope you, too, will share with others.