Henry’s parents have been kidnapped, so his aunt and uncle and their three daughters have taken him in. Things are different at Uncle Frank and Aunt Dotty’s house. Henry’s overprotective parents made him eat healthy food, ride in a carseat until he was nine, and wear a helmet at recess. But now Henry eats hotdogs, drinks soda, plays baseball, and owns a knife. But things get even more interesting for Henry when he discovers that there are dozens of little doors under the plaster of the walls in his attic bedroom, and that these doors are portals to other worlds!
I love the premise of 100 Cupboards — the idea of a room full of tiny strange-looking doors to other worlds is fun and appealing to children, who are N.D. Wilson’s target audience. My kids (ages 9 and 12), who listened to 100 Cupboards with me, did enjoy the characters and the story. We listened to Listening Library’s version read by the agreeable, but just a little too mature-sounding, Russell Horton.
N.D. Wilson spends most of the book building up Henry’s character, showing us that Henry’s been sheltered and consequently he’s kind of wimpy and fearful, and that Henry realizes this and he’s ready to try to overcome his upbringing. The dialogue is pleasant, and many of the interactions with his new family are sweet and poignant (though Henry’s lack of concern for his parents is disturbing). But all of this character development comes at the expense of the plot, which doesn’t really start moving until the last 20% of the book.
Eventually, toward the end, we finally get to visit a couple of the worlds behind the doors and things get scary and bloody (it may be too frightening for some young readers). This, surprisingly, is when the plot thins. The fantasy worlds behind the doors are, so far, lacking in depth. It is probable (almost certain, really) that these worlds seem slim now because we’ve only spent a few pages there and that they’ll expand into something more impressive in the sequel, Dandelion Fire. There are many hints that 100 Cupboards is a build-up to something much bigger, and there’s lots of potential here. I’m disappointed that there wasn’t much payoff in this installment, but I won’t feel like I wasted my time if the sequel delivers.
100 Cupboards — (2007-2008) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Twelve-year-old Henry York wakes up one night to find bits of plaster in his hair. Two knobs have broken through the wall above his bed and one of them is slowly turning… Henry scrapes the plaster off the wall and discovers cupboards of all different sizes and shapes. Through one he can hear the sound of falling rain. Through another he sees a glowing room — with a man pacing back and forth! Henry soon understands that these are not just cupboards, but portals to other worlds. 100 Cupboards is the first book of a new fantasy adventure, written in the best world-hopping tradition and reinvented in N. D. Wilson’s inimitable style.