100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

I put off reading The Golden Compass for a long time, not because I felt threatened by Philip Pullman’s “attack on religion” or whatever you want to call it, but because I read a lot of interviews with him in which he didn’t seem like a very nice person. I like to feel like I could be friends (or at least friendly) with the people whose books I read. Of course, I finally caved to all that pressure and read it, and I did find it very good, but I still can’t quite imagine myself chatting with Mr. Pullman over a cup of coffee.

100 Cupboards sat next to my bed for a while for very similar reasons – N.D. Wilson is the managing editor of Credenda/Agenda, a magazine whose theology I disagree with, and, more importantly, whose (usually sarcastic) tone I have often found uncharitable. I was not sure whether I was interested in reading a book by someone involved with that magazine, nor was I completely sure that I could be fair and impartial when it came to reading it. Here is my best shot.

100 Cupboards is the first book in a new series. It tells the story of Henry, a twelve-year-old boy who has gone to live at his aunt and uncle’s house. His room is in the attic, and, from the start, Henry sees and hears mysterious things that he can’t understand. It’s not long before he has discovered cupboard doors in his walls that seem to lead to other places. As Henry and his cousin Henrietta discover more about these doors, they discover that their ordinary-seeming family has more magical secrets than they could possibly have realized.

While no one can beat C.S. Lewis for doors into other worlds, I thought that the story itself was engaging and interesting. During most of the book, though, I felt that the writing was somewhat stilted, like the author was deliberately writing for kids but didn’t quite know how. Mike and I have discussed in the past that, though we love many Newbery books, the award is sometimes given to a book that kids ought to like, or to the kind of book that adults think kids like. That’s the best way that I can describe the writing in this book – something an adult thinks a kid will like. Henry’s thoughts didn’t seem like the thoughts of a boy to me. They seemed like the thoughts of an adult trying to think like a boy. The first part of the book was mostly setup, and the story picked up in the second half, which I enjoyed more than the first half.

I know that N.D. Wilson’s Leepike Ridge has garnered good reviews, so perhaps I will pick it up sometime to see how it compares. If you are a fan of Wilson’s other work, you might give this a try, and I do think that kids who love fantasy will find something to enjoy here. It would probably be of most interest to kids who have finished Narnia but aren’t quite ready for Middle Earth.

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