A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Throughout novel, very brief mentions are made of events happening during World War II -- the relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps, the Bataan Death March in the Philippines, European Jews being made to wear the Star of David, Black men joining the armed services only to be assigned the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs, how America turned away Jews trying to escape from Germany.
Be brave. Never give up hope.
Positive Role Models
Frankie has led a heartbreaking life. She's lost her mother and her father has all but abandoned her. Life in the orphanage is dark, often abusive, with barely edible food and a strictness against which she can't help but rebel. But she never loses her ability to love or to hope. And, as readers learn in the first pages of the book, she's managed against all odds to make a new life for herself and her sister.
Violence & Scariness
Some of the nuns at the orphanage subject the girls and boys to physical abuse (e.g., slaps, whipping with straps) and verbal abuse. A young woman uses a poker to fight off a man trying to assault her. A murder is described but not in graphic detail.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A few kisses, and one sexual encounter briefly and discreetly described.
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Very few uses of "goddamn," "hell," and "crap."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Pearl regularly visits and drinks at a real bar with a ghost bartender.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.