In this debut YA novel, a young Irish boy finds a mysterious door beneath his family home in London that he uses to travel through time and space to a new, strange city across the ocean.
In 1961, 8-year-old Conor O’Loughlin’s family has been living a quiet life in England during the relative calm of the postwar years, but Conor doesn’t share his parents’ nostalgia for their home in Ireland. He’s a bright student, and the place where he lives feels confining to him. One day, he breaks into the abandoned pub below his family’s apartment, and it becomes his personal refuge. One day, he notices a locked door hidden in the back of the pub. It doesn’t seem like it would lead outside the building, so he resolves to unlock it and see what lies beyond it. When he manages to do so, he finds himself in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the middle of a 1961 riot involving police and demonstrators. Traumatized, he flees back through the door. It’s six years before he opens it again, but this time, at age 14, he’s taken with the city, which is so different from his own. He quickly befriends a writer, John, who takes him to museums, including the Guggenheim, and teaches him about agnosticism, fascism, Beat poetry, and modern art. But Conor’s ties to London never let him stay for long. For a time, he balances his two lives, but each starts to demand more from him—and eventually Conor has to make a choice. Overall, this is a slow and measured coming-of-age story. First-time novelist McCormack focuses on smaller moments, mainly putting effort into showing how Conor learns and changes over time rather than putting emphasis on momentous events. However, despite the author’s attempts to depict a gritty New York City, the story doesn’t really seem built to contain it; instead, everything is in soft focus, apparently in order to accommodate a story of a teen discovering himself. Still, the novel fits comfortably into the YA sci-fi/fantasy genre even if it doesn’t dwell on the magic at its center.
A gentle exploration of youthful indecision and curiosity.