The Door To the Lost, by Jaleigh Johnson

The Door To the Lost, by Jaleigh Johnson (Delecorte, July 2018), is one of the strongest middle grade (for 9-12 year olds) fantasies I've read so far this year.  Magic, character, world-building, and plot all work just beautifully together.

Rook is the child of a magical people who came to her current world through a portal.  Her people brought magical wonders with them, and magic was everyone's darling, until the portal closed in an explosion of magic that had horrible consequences.  Just before the explosion, a boatload of children came through from the world of magic, arriving with no memories of their former lives, into a world that now looked at magic fear and suspicion.  Rook was one of those children, who made her own way off into the world, and now she is an exile

An exile with magic.

Rook can make portals with chalk, that open to wherever she wishes them too.  She uses them to escape the security forces of the town that's her base of operations, and to help others in trouble with the authorities get away.   The door she uses most, though, leads to a refuge she shares with another exiled girl, Drift.  It's a space with no other way in or out, and it is their nest.

But the one door Rook can't seem to draw is the door that will lead her and Drift back to their own true home.  And lately Rook's doors haven't cooperated as well as they should.  Doors keep opening into a snowy woods she can't  recognize.  And then one day a shapeshifting fox boy comes out the woods, into Rook's town....and Rook and Drift, with barely enough money for themselves, have another mouth to feed.

That's the set-up.  What happens next is the arrival on the scene of a strangely powerful woman who would use the girls and their magic to open a portal back to the magical homeworld, even though it means taken them on a journey through the Wasteland, the epicenter of the magical cataclysm.  Many adventures ensue, friendships are tested, new friends are made.

Though there's lots of magic (the best sort of middle grade fantasy magic, that doesn't come with instructions, but has to be worked with), and lots of adventuring, at its heart this is a "best friends in exile" story, with a generous dash of "found family" theme, where the magic and adventure serve the emotional arc, instead of taking it over.

Kirkus gave it is star, calling it "your new favorite fantasy." I wouldn't go quite that far, but I do recommend it highly. 

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