The Door that Led to Where, by Sally Gardner

I have read enough time travel books in my life that I feel pretty confident in saying that The Door that Led to Where, by Sally Gardner (Delecorte, November 2016), is one of the best recent YA time travel books.  I'll skitter around my confidence by saying that what I like in a time travel book is a character-driven point to the whole enterprise, preferably a point that isn't a love sundered by centuries or some such (I am Done with romance time travel for the moment...).  So you might disagree with me regarding this one, and indeed there are those reviewing it on Amazon who found it "too confusing" and such.  I was not confused, or if I was, I trusted the story to see me through safely to the other side, and it did.

London teenager AJ hasn't done well in school, except in English.  Not because he was unintelligent, but because he spent school in the library reading (Dickens, for instance.  Also Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which was an instant bond, because I read it too when I was his age).  So it's rather a miracle to him that his mother gets him a job as a junior clerk at a decent law firm.  It's a double miracle, because his mother has clearly loathed him all his life (his father was never in the picture).  But there he is, employed. And there are his two best friends, also done with school, and getting deeper and deeper into murky, illegal waters....

Then AJ is given a key by a mysterious professor who talks in riddles.  And AJ finds the door the key unlocks, and it takes him back in time to 1830, plunging him into a murder mystery.  His own father was one of the victims, and the murderer is still at work....Also there is a snuff box smuggling ring operating (they are a good think to buy in the past to sell at profit in the present).  Possibly this part is confusing.  It was the part of the plot that interested me least, so I didn't try to hard to Think about it, and so was not at a loss for understanding.  As my favorite Salada teabag saying went, "if you don't try you can't fail."

More interesting to me was that AJ took his two friends through the door to the past, giving them a second chance that suited them both tremendously.  This was the really good time travel part--how two good-hearted boys, who were loyal brother figures to AJ, had gone wrong in the present, but could make new lives for themselves in 19th century London.  And there was a nice dose of time travel tourism, with great descriptions of London back in the day.

AJ is a courageous boy, trying to do the right thing for those he cares for.  This group includes an 1830s girl, Esme, who's adopted father is one of the poisoner's victims.  But his growing tender feeling for her is not the point of the plot; it's something of a nice romantic extra that complicates things a bit, and gives AJ a reason to keep pushing through the difficulties of the past.

So I enjoyed it lots, and was happy to keep cheering for AJ, and am happy to recommend it!

And now a game of comparing my own opinions to those of the Kirkus reviewer....

Kirkus:  "The convoluted time-travel mystery has verve, but readers will encounter some bumps. AJ’s fondness for Dickens (he excelled at English if nothing else) prepares him somewhat for life in the early 19th century, though the ease with which the characters adapt to different centuries strains credibility. Too, many of the large cast of characters add nothing to the plot beyond a thicket of complications."

Hmm.  My credibility was not strained; I think that if you are desperate for a place to start over, the past is as good as anywhere.  I am, however, confused by the reference to the "large cast of characters."  I would not call it large and I was able to keep everyone I needed to keep straight in my head.  And seriously, this wasn't all that complicated a book!  Boy time travels.  Solves poisoner mystery with help of friends.  Meets some people in past and present. Worries about friends in past and makes sure they are settled.  Returns home with new girl friend.

Whatever.  I liked it.


  1. This sounds like a good one -- a time-travel murder mystery. Great combination. Thanks for telling me about it.

  2. Oh, this sounds good to me! Thx for sharing...

  3. I hope you both enjoy it if you pick it up, Rosi and June!

  4. This is a high interest novel for readers in the upper elementary and middle school. It is just gorgeous. It is all about the story. It is all about the characters.


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