Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker


Over the Woodward Wall is on one side a very straightforward children’s books, on the other a very meta experiment in mirroring.
This is A. Deborah Baker’s first book, which in our world means “the first novella Seanan McGuire wrote under this pseudonym”, but if you’ve read Middlegame, it means something completely different. And that’s where my main doubt comes in: would someone who hasn’t read Middlegame get much out of this at all? Because I’m not sure.

This is the story of Avery and Zib, two children who couldn’t be more different but have tied fates, as they stumble in a different world on their way to school. If you’ve read Middlegame, you also know that twins Roger and Dodger were as different as twins can possibly be while still being close in a way no one else can ever be, therefore encompassing the rest of reality between them – like two letters at opposite ends of the alphabet. This similarity has plot relevance in Middlegame, as Over the Woodward Wall sits inside it, but not here; here noticing the parallels is something that enriches the reading experience, but even if you can’t, you’ll be perfectly fine.
Because, if it weren’t for the existence of Middlegame, this wouldn’t be anything but perfectly fine in the most forgettable way possible.

This isn’t a children’s book, the same way Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children isn’t YA but an adult response to the YA portal fantasy genre – one that imitates its structure and some of its characteristics. By which I mean, Over the Woodward Wall is a cuckoo and doesn’t even really make for a good children’s book; I know that if I had read it in middle school, I would have found it bland, boring, and way too interested in its own cleverness. I would have found the Crow Girl bits very compelling, as I found them interesting and cool to read now, especially the tiny spin on gender and being fragmented it took – I wanted more of that, and less of the rest.

And is it preachy. Every single character in the Up-and-Under is interested in giving the main ones life lessons, only disguised in a quirky way – that is, when the narration isn’t already trying to do that to the reader. While this is clearly a stylistic choice more than a flaw, it’s one I don’t really get along with: it’s tedious, and I would have felt talked down to had I been a kid. Now I know that books written like this are soothing to listen to while doing chores, but don’t work for me on ebook at all. And that’s a shame, I feel like this book is (even more) full of easter eggs and meta commentary that I could find while I constantly felt like skimming all of it.
I hope there’s going to be an audiobook of Over the Woodward Wall, because it’s the format I would recommend it in, and even then, almost only to Middlegame fans.

7 thoughts on “Review: Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker

  1. I loved middlegame, so I really want to pick this one up!
    Great review! Bit sad that it would probably only be enjoyable for readers of middlegame!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know how McGuire manages to write that many book! :O
    I haven’t read Middlegame, I own it but I’ve heard very mixed opinions about it so I don’t know when (and if) I’ll read it. It’s a shame Over the Woodward Wall is only enjoyable to Middlegame fans but that’s good to know, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lots of great points here. When I was writing my review, I wondered whether the book would be placed in the children’s or adult section of the bookstore. It should certainly be shelved near Middlegame at least. I identified it as middle grade because McGuire has been calling it her first middle grade and I do think it is appropriate for middle graders, but I also agree with the sentiment in your statement re: it not being a children’s book in the same way ‘Wayward Children isn’t YA’. For me, it wasn’t too preachy (I like that style of fairytale-esque narration) but I do think that style has a narrow appeal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Over the Woodward wall is in that grey area – it’s not inappropriate for middle graders, but I don’t know if they’d get much out of it (especially if they haven’t/can’t read Middlegame) and I’d say that it reads even younger because of the fairytale style. It is a middle grade in the universe it comes from, so maybe that’s why the author sees it as one? As far as I can tell, it hasn’t been marketed that way at all (which is the right decision imo; I’d definitely put it near Middlegame in the adult section.)

      Liked by 1 person

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