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Beyond the Doors

Review

Beyond the Doors

Doors are powerful thresholds. More than just moving us from space to space, they can signal change, symbolize transformation and hide surprises both good and scary. Whole worlds can exist beyond them and the simple task of opening a door can change someone forever. Author David Neilsen taps into the mystery and possibility of doors with his latest middle grade novel, BEYOND THE DOORS, where for one family, doors open into memory and memory becomes lived reality.

Siblings Janice, Zack, Sydney and Alexa Rothbaum live with their father, their mother having gone away six years ago. Though they miss Charlotte Rathbaum, their life has moved on without her and all has been well. That is until their father, Edward, home briefly from work on an errand, is caught in a house fire and ends up in a coma. With no parents, no home and none of their belongings left, the four Rothbaum children are taken into custody and await foster home placement.

"One of the best aspects of BEYOND THE DOORS is that Neilsen doesn’t shy away from big words and never patronizes his young audience."

At the very last minute, before they are split up, a lawyer rushes in with news that they have an Aunt Gladys who they can live with. The kids are happy to get to stay together but wary as they had no idea an Aunt Gladys even existed. The wariness turns to real anxiety when they arrive at their new home; Aunt Gladys lives in a round fortress-like house and she seems less than thrilled to find the children and social worker asking to enter. Finally she lowers the drawbridge (yes, drawbridge) and the children are allowed inside, only to find the house is more bizarre on the interior, and their aunt is just as strange.

There are no doors hanging in the home and the only food is cereal. Aunt Gladys is scatterbrained and unwelcoming and working on a secret project that involves doors, gloves and lots of blue sparks of light.  Even Dimitri, the man who delivers doors to Gladys and seems to know a thing or two about the machine she works with, doesn’t know enough to make the Rothbaum children feel secure.

It turns out that the children’s maternal family, mother Charlotte, aunt Gladys, and grandfather Marcus Tulving have all been engaged in the MemorySphere in an attempted rescue. But, the memories they have been travelling in and out of have soured over the years and when the children go beyond the doors, what they find is frightening and dangerous. Together --- and with the help of the family they never knew they had --- the Rathbaum kids are strong and clever enough to navigate the MemorySphere and keep their family together.

One of the best aspects of BEYOND THE DOORS is that Neilsen doesn’t shy away from big words and never patronizes his young audience. The story doesn’t always make logical sense (in the way that stories about other worlds, time travel, or speculative themes sometimes don’t) but it is a fun read from start to finish. There are a lot of interesting ideas for readers to sink their teeth into and the themes of family, loyalty, and memory are nicely handled. BEYOND THE DOORS is a sometimes dark and sometimes wacky but overall thrilling story that journeys beyond doors both literal and figurative!

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on August 29, 2017

Beyond the Doors
by David Neilsen