Flashback Fridays: You are now a discard. We have no further use for you in play . . .

You’re a kid whose wandered into a place he should not have.  Where you happen upon the mysterious Them, playing with human lives.  And you get caught and thrown to the far boundaries of the world.  You are no longer a part of the world, simply a Homeward Bounder seeking to get back home and win your freedom from this exile.

Do you remember:

The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones (HarperCollins, c1981)

Perhaps one of the oddest and darkest of Diana Wynne Jones’ middle grade novels, this story surprised me.  I was expecting some sort of odd D&D style gaming story where the characters were caught up as pawns in the game.  Or maybe like a chess game.  Neither of these is quite the case with this story.

Young Jamie goes exploring where he shouldn’t.  The mysterious, cloaked Them catch him at it and exile him from his place and time.  Jamie becomes a Homeward Bounder, always forced to wander unaging through different worlds. The only hope he has is to find his home again.  If he can find his way home, he will be set free of his exile, and allowed to rejoin life.   Jamie visits hundreds of different places, and must survive in all of them, but never can stay long enough to make his home in any of them.  After a long time wandering on his own, Jamie acquires companions, other homeward Bounders.  Helen and Joris each have their own issues and their own personalities, but they too are trying to seek an end to their exile.  As they come to know each other and figure out how to work together despite the curse laid upon them, they decide that they want to find a way to get rid of Them permanently–to kick them out of the worlds and stop them from playing with the lives of people.  But this ambitious plan is going to require help and a hefty price in the end.

The ultimate solution to defeating Them is far from simple, but it is effective . . . even if the results in the end are bittersweet at best.  This was a middle grade book that surprised me because it challenged my expectations that of course the heroes would make it home and of course there would be a victory.  And there is . . . sort of, but it’s mixed at best.  The beautiful thing about this book is that the ending is a different sort of triumph–and a reminder that sometimes life isn’t a happily ever after, but an ongoing struggle with what victories we can achieve.

One of several covers that I don’t care for. This one seems to say: “Angry kid summons death to take out his entire school.”

The gorgeous cover on the book above is a sure-fire win over some of the previous covers (trust me.)  But sadly,  we’ve never seen that cover here in the States.  There are few copies on the library shelves, though it is possible to check out the e-book!  I still wish they’d bring it over to the North American market with that cover, because I think it might just coax some kids into into reading what is arguably one of Diana Wynne Jones most unusual works.

It’s been interesting to note that Diana Wynne Jones’ Them remind me quite a bit of Terry Pratchett’s Auditors (who similarly want to control human life), though Them precede the Auditors by a few years.   Multiverse stories like this are not too common, and fairly complicated to pull off well–especially for a middle grade audience.  I think Homeward Bounders does an excellent job of describing travel through other worlds while not bogging the story down in endless detail about them.  That said, this is probably not the way to introduce new readers to the author, as it is a more mature and complicated read!

Other Diana Wynne Jones’ fans out there–what was the book that really surprised you?

Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on May 17, 2015, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    Hm, I don’t know that I would say this is not a good book to introduce DWJ. It depends on the reader. It’s one of my favorites, with its brilliant concept perfectly executed. You have to be able to bear a rather melancholy ending though.

    • Himm maybe more to the point, it’s not a good intro for younger readers. I was thinking a tad in librarian terms and I was imagining a newer chapter book reader looking for new fantasy reads–I’d get them hooked on the Chrestomanci or Howl stuff first. ^_^

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