My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Firstly, let me admit that I had not read anything by Sally Gardner before this book. Secondly, I ask myself the question : why did I leave it this long?
The Door That Led to Where is fabulous. A time-slip/mystery/friendship/fantasy/realist novel that defies being categorised (obviously), and holds the reader right to the very end. Gardner’s characters are top-notch. You become invested in them without even noticing it is happening – until you read the last few pages with tears in your eyes.
AJ and his mates, Slim and Leon, are as close as brothers, and they are always in some kind of trouble. When AJ’s mum manages to get him an interview for a baby clerk position at a law firm she used to clean for, it seems that AJ’s life might finally be turning around.
And turn around it does, but in ways that AJ could not possibly have imagined. It is revealed early on that AJ is a Dickens aficionado, and this certainly helps him to navigate 19th century London when he unlocks “the door” of the title. He revels in the new environment and becomes deeply involved in the goings on, on the other side of the door.
There are mysteries to be solved – on both side of the door – where is Leon? What happened to AJ’s father, who was the previous holder of the key to the door? What is Mr Baldwin, a partner in the law firm AJ works for, up to?
Added to all this is the wonderful relationship AJ has with “Auntie Elsie” who lives in the same block of flats as AJ and his family. When he leaves the family flat because he can no longer stand living with his mother, Elsie becomes a grandmother figure and they look after one another. I loved this relationship and seeing it develop. The story straddles the two time zones really well – in a believable way (at least for me) – and never gets bogged down in the scientific “jargon” that so often accompanies a story like this one. Whilst it is definitely rooted in the 21st century, this is really, in essence, a mystery story that just happens to span 150 years. AJ, Slim and Leon become different people as the story progresses (or become who they were meant to be) – and they way the three end up really sat well with me. I am hoping there may be a second book in the works as there were a couple of loose ends not tied up – I think this could be a really engaging series if that was to happen.
Because there is some swearing in the text, I would say this is recommended for ages 14 and up, but if you have a mature reader who would cope with some fruity language as part of the plot (not gratuitous) I would say 12 and up. Now, to find the next Sally Gardner to read!