A novel-obsessed teen finds herself drawn into a meta-textual alternate universe in The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor.
Haley would rather write another book report on Wuthering Heights than any other topic, to her teacher’s despair. She’s so obsessed with gothic tropes that she dresses like a modern-day gothic heroine. She’s the sort of person who vehemently rejects the world she lives in in favor of the imagined literary world.
Haley is thrilled at first when she’s thrown into an alternate universe that looks just like the inside of one of her beloved gothic novels. She’s confused, though, that the castle she encounters, Willowweep Manor, does not conform to any historical style from our world, but reads like a strange mishmash that has never existed. At Willowweep, she meets three brothers: Laurence, Montague, and Cuthbert, who each conform to gothic tropes. Laurence is a taciturn hero, Montague a handsome rogue, and Cuthbert an empty-headed fop. The manor’s maid, Wilhelmina, is surly and mysterious, with an unknown link to the manor’s disappeared mistress. There are other characters at the manor straight out of gothic central casting, including a ghost and an evil monk.
Haley soon learns that Willowweep doesn’t conform to any historical styles or real-world rules because it isn’t actually in the world: it is a “gasket universe,” a tiny reality that keeps a safe distance between our universe and another one that contains an ultimate evil called “the Bile.” At first, Haley is angry when she learns the big secret of Willowweep Manor; she was hoping for a “shocking murder” or “mad relation in the attic.” Soon, though, she’s called on to defeat the Bile and defend her own reality. The finale is not so much a repudiation of gothic tropes as a celebration of strength found in unexpected places. There’s room left in the ending for more adventures for Haley and Montague.
Garrity’s dialog is snappy and amusing, pushing the action along with a pace akin to animated TV. The framing and rhythm of the action are similarly propulsive. Readers are in assured hands with Garrity’s writing and Baldwin’s lively art.
The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor will appeal to readers as spirited as Haley who know what they like and are passionate about it. The more familiar readers are with gothic tropes, the more they’ll find to love in Willowweep Manor, but even those out of the loop can identify with feeling trapped in their set role. Middle and high schoolers may even be inspired to seek out and read some of the novels that inspire Haley; hopefully future editions will include a reading list. Haley is Black, all other characters are White. Recommended for all but the smallest Young Adult collections.
The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor
By Shaenon Garrity
Art by Christopher Baldwin
Simon & Schuster, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: Black