Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire
I’ve been very hit and miss on Seanan McGuire’s WAYWARD CHILDREN series, with my rating on books ranging from two stars to four. Though the results have been more miss than hit overall, since the books’ novella lengths mean they aren’t a big time investment, I thought I’d give the latest, Where the Drowned Girls Go (2022), a shot in hopes it would be closer to the four than the two. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
While the book can, somewhat, be read independently of the others (I’d say McGuire offers up just enough exposition so someone new to the series wouldn’t be completely at sea), it will be more effective had one read the earlier installments. That being the case, I’m going to assume you’ve done so.
Unlike many of the others, Where the Drowned Girls Go isn’t a portal story but rather a post-portal one set entirely in this world. Cora has decided Eleanor’s school isn’t working for her (she is being tormented by the voices of the Drowned Gods from her portal land) and so begs to be transferred to the sister school, “where students go when they want to believe that everything that happened on the other side of the door was just a dream, or a delusion.” Eleanor is deeply opposed, though she only says that the other school, the Whitehorn Institute, is “different, very different … and I view it as a personal failing every time I lose a student to them.” Cora won’t be deterred, though, and soon finds herself dropped off at the very remote Institute, which is surrounded by a huge stone wall that is also electrified (not a good sign). It doesn’t take long for Cora to feel she made a big mistake, and when her friend Sumi shows up from Eleanor’s school on a rescue mission, the two plot a way to escape, learning along the way that the Institute has far worse problems than the student bullying that goes on, the bad food, and the strict rules and punishments.
As is often the case with these novellas, the themes are a strong point, if familiar by now: find your true self, don’t let others determine your worth, what you think you desire or need isn’t always what you really want or need. Also familiar is an anti-bullying/shaming aspect (Cora is fat-shamed both in flashback scenes and at the Institute). They’re well-handled if a bit on the nose/overt, and one can certainly relate to the situations on an emotional level. Another strong point in common with the earlier books is McGuire’s writing at the sentence level, where she can write some truly beautiful lines.
The characters beyond Cora have their moments, but overall feel a bit thin (this is one reason it would help to have read the earlier works). And their dialogue, I felt, didn’t always match their age, feeling either too adult or too crafted so that I felt these weren’t natural lines but composed ones. Other issues were similar to ones I’ve had with the less successful books in the series: multiple plot holes and contrivances, some writing that, at times, felt a bit careless or sloppy, a rushed ending, and a few others. These weren’t quite as egregious as some earlier books, but they were frequent enough and glaring enough that they significantly marred the reading experience, especially in the latter half.
That said, I will note that I tend to be an outlier on this series. And I also tend to be more bothered by execution problems than many, who either don’t notice the plot holes, etc., or are happy to overlook them in favor of other elements. If you fall into that category, or if you’ve been a fan of the other books in this series, then I’m guessing you’ll enjoy Where the Drowned Girls Go far more than I did.