So, first, a disclaimer: Joanne’s a good buddy of mine, and I got to be a beta reader for this book, so even though I will try hard to be fair and balanced and objective, I will probably fail. That said, on with the review!
Doors is the story of Jackie Karam, a struggling freelance comic artist in New York City; the brightest spot in her life is her friendship with rich, eccentric party boy Orne St John. Inspired by an old book and the strange real-life disappearance of its author, Orne gets a wild idea: if one had a lost book in one’s past, a book one could remember almost nothing about, perhaps finding that book could open a door into an alternate dimension.
Orne himself has no lost or forgotten books in his past, but it turns out Jackie does: a pulp science fiction novel recommended to her by her favorite high school English teacher just before he died in a car wreck. (This is Alan Forrest, the romantic lead from A Question of Time.) In the wake of the accident, Jackie forgot everything about the book, even its title, only an image of the gaudy paperback she checked out from her hometown library lingering in her mind.
This thin thread is enough for Orne. Ready for adventure, he hauls Jackie off to Maryland to try to open an interdimensional portal.
Is it a spoiler to say that she succeeds? Of course, if she didn’t, there wouldn’t be much of a story, and Doors, while not an action-packed thriller, is eventful enough to keep one turning the pages.
The story’s true strength, however, is the characters: Jackie and Orne both feel like real people you could meet, not merely collections of tropes. (The collection-of-tropes problem is one of the reasons I don’t read a lot of romances.) Jackie is bitter and acerbic and sometimes a jerk, though she has a good heart, and is also a passionate defender of the underdog, as we see in an early scene. (Aside: it delights my heart that we are getting to see more and more female main characters who are flawed and not necessarily likable, but are vivid and real. Think Jessica Jones from the eponymous Netflix series.) Orne meanwhile has his own issues and flaws, and hides his tender heart underneath a careless rich boy facade. They are neither of them perfect; they are frequently abrasive; and they are absolutely delightful.
Now, in a time travel story, the time travel is frequently a mechanism by which the main characters not only have cool adventures, but realize the ways they’ve been going wrong in their original times/places and figure out how to fix them. In keeping with the realism of the characters, Jackie’s adventure into an alternate timeline doesn’t magically solve the problems she and Orne have with their lives, but it gives her insights that lead to a much less pat and easy, but ultimately more satisfying, ending.
Thematically, Doors should delight every reader’s heart. We all know books are wonders, right? Open the cover of a book and you could be transported anywhere: a space station orbiting a distant planet; the deck of a ship in Nelson’s navy; a realm where gods and giants walk the earth and magic is real. In Doors, it is literally true. How cool is that? I know my inner 12-year-old is still living in hope that one day she’ll turn a corner and find a portal to another world. Preferably one with talking cats and unicorns.
Jackie’s alternate New York includes no magical creatures; in fact, as she narrates:
This reality seemed just like the Manhattan I had grown to love and hate. But this creeping sensation wouldn’t leave me, that I would turn the corner and there would be Nazis. Nazis! There were always Nazis in alternate timelines!
But that’s Doors. It’s subtle and weird and beautiful and sometimes sad and sometimes marvelous, and if there are neither talking animals nor AU Nazis, there is joy and hope in the ordinariness of human life.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a book I read when I was a kid; I can’t remember anything about it, but I’m going to go track it down and see what happens.
March Mayhem is almost over, but there’s still time to enter to win a copy of Doors, as well as the other books and book-related awesomeness featured here over the last couple of weeks. Look for the entry form on Joanne’s tumblr!