Sally Gardner – The Door That Led to Where

sallygardner-thedoorthatledtowhereWhen the present offers no hope for the future, the answers may lie in the past

AJ Flynn has just failed all but one of his GCSEs, and his future is looking far from rosy. So when he is offered a junior position at a London law firm he hopes his life is about to change — but he could never have imagined by how much.

Tidying up the archive one day, AJ finds an old key, mysteriously labelled with his name and date of birth – and he becomes determined to find the door that fits the key. And so begins an amazing journey to a very real and tangible past – 1830, to be precise – where the streets of modern Clerkenwell are replaced with cobbles and carts, and the law can be twisted to suit a villain’s means. Although life in 1830 is cheap, AJ and his friends quickly find that their own lives have much more value. They’ve gone from sad youth statistics to young men with purpose – and at the heart of everything lies a crime that only they can solve. But with enemies all around, can they unravel the mysteries of the past, before it unravels them?

A fast-paced mystery novel by one of the country’s finest writers, THE DOOR THAT LED TO WHERE will delight, surprise and mesmerise all those who read it.

Before The Door That Led to Where, the only book I’d read by Sally Gardner was The Double Shadow. I completely fell in love with that book, which not only offered an intriguing story and wonderful characters, but also had me put my English Lit degree to good use. Thus I was pleased to receive a review copy of The Door That Led To Where, not least because it was a fantasy book set in my favourite of all places, London and it had time-travelling to boot. The idea of a secret door to a different time or place is an old one, who hasn’t wished they had a magic wardrobe at least once as a child or to be able to cross to Platform 9 3/4? In Gardner’s capable hands this premise led to a wonderful story that is not just about solving a murder, but about friendship, love, and the ties that bind. 

What set the book apart from the get go is its voice. The story is narrated by AJ, our protagonist, and his voice  is super clear and fun. He’s very much a modern teenager with the associated slang included. Yet Gardner shows that teens these days aren’t just all about the slang and the street, they are definitely able to shift register and quickly too, as we discover when AJ gets a job as a baby clerk at a prestigious law firm called Baldwin Groat. I really enjoyed this aspect of the story, the way AJ’s best friends help him get ready to start his job and the scenes at the office and at court.

If mystery is at the centre of the narrative, then friendship is its heart. AJ’s most important relationship is with his best friends Slim and Leon. The three of them form a very close-knit support group that helps its trio of members through heartbreak, grief, misfortune and good times. I loved the bond between these three, even if it sometimes felt as if AJ felt that he was responsible for the other two’s well-being. With his father long since disappeared and his mother more interested in pleasing her new partner than caring for her children, AJ is somewhat lacking in adults that care for him. He does have someone looking out for him in the form of his downstairs neighbour Auntie Elsie. She was a wonderful presence in the book and I loved how she fit into the narrative. My one reservation was AJ’s troubled relationship with his mother and the way this is resolved at the end of the novel. It felt a little too much all’s well that ends well, though that might just be my cold, cynical, black heart speaking.

One of the big draws of this story was the element of time travel to 1830s London. I loved both of Gardner’s versions of London. I found the differences between them not only well-drawn, but also an interesting juxtaposition between AJ’s always connected life in the ‘Electronic Jungle of Despair’ as Slim calls present-day London and the equally confounding though far more etiquette-regulated world of 1830. AJ’s ease with swapping between the two worlds was unexpected, but never truly unconvincing and I absolutely loved the way both Slim and Leon took to living in nineteenth century London. They took to the life as a duck to water and were truly children out of time.

The puzzle pieces of the mystery were fantastic and I really loved the story. The Door That Led to Where is very different from The Double Shadow, but just as entrancing. I got fully sucked in by the story and Gardner’s writing. She ends the book in a great way with a neat bow on top, but I was loathe to leave the book and was sad there wasn’t more to look forward to, because AJ was just such an entertaining protagonist. The Door That Led to Where is just a wonderful YA novel and has reminded me that I should really get on reading Gardner’s backlist.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.