“According to my mother, no book is only a book. A book can improve your mind or it can break it.”

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby (Balzer+Bray 2019) is amazing. It broke my heart and mind at every turn.

“Girls were punished so hard for their love, so hard, hard enough to break them.”

Laura Ruby interweaves the three stories of Frankie, Pearl and Marguerite so deftly, when their lives (and deaths) seem utterly disconnected. There’s a lot going on and a ghostly narrator can cause all sorts of confusion. That was part of what I loved.

And did I mention, Pearl and Marguerite are ghosts. Alive or dead, all three girls are on similar paths of realising how they can survive the worlds they inhabit. Worlds which treat girls’ love and sexuality with such disdain and cruelty. Worlds which think:

“Girls were ridiculous creatures, good for nothing, easily led, easily finished.”

Family secrets, memories and love all play a part. Over three decades, Spanish Flu, Prohibition and World War II background the girls’ tumultuous lives. Intersecting with everyday minutiae to show problems and over-arching themes as relevant then as today.

“The world keeps many secrets from itself, the angel said. But it can’t keep secrets from you without your permission.”

And Frankie and her sister Toni’s lives are based on Laura Ruby’s own mother-in-law’s family. While Frances Ponzo Metro didn’t have as many ghostly encounters to contend with, her life was as full of wonder and heartache.

“All she’d asked for was a little bit of time. Not too much to ask, and far too much.”