The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth
Six years ago, sisters Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell were swept away to a strange and beautiful kingdom called the Woodlands, where they lived for years. But ever since they returned to their lives in post-WWII England, they have struggled to adjust.
Ev desperately wants to return to the Woodlands, and Philippa just wants to move on. When Ev goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister's despair and the painful truths they've been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.
Walking the line between where fantasy and reality meet, this lyrical and magical novel is, above all else, an exploration of loss and healing, and what it means to find where you belong.
TITLE: The Light Between Worlds
AUTHOR: Laura E. Weymouth with Fiona Hardingham (Narrator), Moira Quirk (Narrator)
LENGTH: 368 pages (9 hours 34 minutes)
AGE: Young Adult
General Vibe: Narnia (C.S. Lewis) with mulberry down!!! (Nicole Kornher-Stace)
Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN WORLDS is a Narnia A.U. in which three children were magically plucked from a WWII backyard bomb shelter and spend several years in the Woodlands, where they grew up, faced dangers, went through a different kind of war, then returned home when the older two were ready. Except Evelyn didn't want to go back to England, and spends her time cycling between hope and misery as she tries to return to the Woodlands, the only home her heart knows. It captures the way that, sometimes, to them, each person's grief feels so specific and terrible that there's no way anyone could ever understand what happened or what they're still going through. Instead, each attempt at understanding through clichés, parallels, or personal stories only makes clear some enormous and unbridgeable gap. Every difference becoming an insurmountable barrier which makes it harder and harder to feel like anyone could ever understand.
The narrative is split almost exactly in two, between Evelyn in the first half and Philippa in the second. Ev is depressed and lonely, and every bit of happiness she manages to find keeps reminding her of her previous joy in the Woodlands. She spends a lot of time with a boy named Tom, but that acquaintance began through her brother Jamie's helpful meddling and she's never able to tell him what's wrong. Philippa takes over as narrator when Evelyn disappears, the rest of the story follows her dealing (rather badly) with Ev's absence and feeling responsible for things going so badly.
As a Narnia, A.U., specifically, this deals a little with the dysphoria which results from being flung back into bodies at least five years younger than they'd become used to. They were returned to the very instant of their original journey, showing none of the age they'd gained in the other world. Part of Ev's despair is being thrust back in to her eleven-year-old body after having made it to sixteen or so in the Woodlands. She literally grew up there, only to have it all undone in a moment because her siblings were ready to return home.
The Woodlands are barely sketched, quite intentionally so, as no recitation of their lore could come close to conveying how much it calls to Ev, still. This assumes the reader is familiar with the general shape of a portal fantasy, with heroes plucked from an ordinary life and tossed into adventures they'll never be able to explain without being locked up for insanity, doomed to spend the rest of their lives never speaking of the most fantastical and formative moments of their entire existence. For Evelyn, the Woodlands are her home and everything else a shadow. Philippa wants to move on, if not to forget, and the brother Jamie appears to have placed it firmly in the past. While small slices of the Woodlands are shown, they're just enough to show what kind of place it was. The worldbuilding instead focused on the inner lives of Evelyn and Philippa, in what they pay attention to and how they see the world. This intense focus on them leaves some of the secondary characters feeling stilted and interchangeable, as the subtleties in how they interact with first Ev and then Philippa are almost lost in the weight of their different despairs.
Evelyn and Tom's closeness felt mostly like she enjoyed him being quiet and there. She needed to not literally be alone, sometimes, but was unable to handle his attempts at understanding because he doesn't know about the Woodlands. Philippa and Jack's relationship is more developed, since she's trying to move on. What stilts her isn't the Woodlands, it's the terrible uncertainty of Ev's fate. When Tom tries to relate to Evelyn by discussing the brothers he lost in the war, Ev can't accept his empathy because it feels like it bears no possible connection to her forced exit from the Woodlands. Tom doesn't know that Ev's despair is unrelated to the war which touched all their lives, and has literally no reason to guess this. Jack's attempts to relate to Philippa go a bit better because the nature of her loss has more immediate parallels to something completely ordinary.
I like the ending, it gives much-needed closure to the ambiguity which suffused the second half. It also avoids tying things off entirely, maintaining the feeling that there's more healing to do.
Graphic/Explicit CW for grief , depression, self harm.
Moderate CW for alcohol, medical content, war, child death, death.
Minor CW for sexual content, forced institutionalization, dysphoria, dysmorphia, drug use, vomit, suicide, animal death