A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
Parents and caregivers: Set limits for violence and more with Plus
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Laura Ruby's Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All is set in the years between 1941 and 1946 and narrated by Pearl, the ghost of a young woman who died in 1918. Pearl roams the streets of Chicago, spying on people from her past and causing havoc when she feels it necessary. She's also keeping a close watch on 14-year-old Frankie, who's been left "temporarily" at an orphanage with her younger sister and older brother. But her stay becomes permanent when her widowed father suddenly remarries and moves to Colorado, taking only Frankie's brother with him. As the story moves forward, Frankie will find first love and suffer a terrible loss, while Pearl and another ghost, Marguerite, must confront the heartbreaking truths hidden in their pasts. Girls and boys at the orphanage are verbally abused, slapped, and whipped with straps by some of the nuns, and a ghostly character's murder is described. There are a few kisses and one discreetly described sexual encounter. Haunting, powerful, and heartbreaking, the novel was a 2019 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
THIRTEEN DOORWAYS, WOLVES BEHIND THEM ALL opens in 1946, at the very end of the story. Nineteen-year-old Frankie Mazza has found work in a diner, and she and her younger sister, Toni, are living on their own in rented room in Chicago. Now behind them are the traumatic years spent in an often abusive Catholic orphanage. After the death of their mother, their father had sent them and their older brother, Vito, to live "temporarily" at the orphanage. They clung to his promise that once he could revive his failing shoe making business, they would be able to come home. Watching over Frankie and narrating the story is Pearl, the ghost of a young woman who died during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Pearl is a restless ghost, roaming the streets of Chicago, where she meets other ghosts, including Marguerite, an African American ghost with a tragic past, and a red fox she names Wolf. Pearl watches as Frankie's father marries a woman with children of her own and takes only Vito when he moves to Colorado with his new family. She sees Frankie, despite the strict separation of boys and girls at the orphanage, begin a first romance with Sam, only to have him leave when he turns 18 and is drafted. Then Frankie's father returns, and the two girls finally leave the orphanage -- only to find themselves living in a tiny apartment ruled over by a very wicked stepmother. As the storyline unfolds for Pearl and Marguerite, memories from their past begin flooding back, and with those memories comes a desire for revenge.
Is it any good?
Readers may find the beginning slow going, but those who keep reading will be rewarded with an almost impossible-to-put-down storyline filled with unexpected plot twists. While Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All is a work of fiction, author Ruby reveals in the author's note that her mother-in-law, Frances, lived in a Chicago orphanage during the Great Depression and World War II and that she relied heavily on the recollections of Frances and her siblings, Toni and Vito, to vividly re-create what daily life was like at a Catholic orphanage.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the characters in Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All who either went off to war or waited at home for someone they loved who was a soldier. Do you think teens today can relate to the experiences of Frankie, Sam, and Vito?
Marguerite believes there are always "wolves" behind the doors you walk through in life. Do you agree? Or do you think bravely opening a door can bring good things into your life?
Do you believe in ghosts or spirits that can watch over us? How are the ghosts in this novel different from those we've seen in movies?
- Author: Laura Ruby
- Genre: Literary Fiction
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Balzar+Bray
- Publication date: October 1, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 365
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: December 8, 2019
Our editors recommend
For kids who love ghost stories and mysteries
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.