On My Bookshelf: Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

August 03, 2020

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby is a historical fiction novel set during WWII, but it is not just another war story. The novel focuses on life in a Chicago orphanage, but weaves in the issues of race relations and the treatment of women, plus there's ghosts, angry, protective ghosts. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: From the author of Printz Medal winner Bone Gap comes the unforgettable story of two young women—one living, one dead—dealing with loss, desire, and the fragility of the American dream during WWII.

When Frankie’s mother died and her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago, it was supposed to be only temporary—just long enough for him to get back on his feet and be able to provide for them once again. That’s why Frankie's not prepared for the day that he arrives for his weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket.

Now Frankie and her sister, Toni, are abandoned alongside so many other orphans—two young, unwanted women doing everything they can to survive.

And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to Frankie to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America—every minute of every day spent wondering if the life she's able to carve out will be enough.

I will admit I do not know the answer. But I will be watching, waiting to find out.

That’s what ghosts do.



Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby is a historical fiction novel set during WWII, but it is not just another war story. The novel focuses on life in a Chicago orphanage, but weaves in the issues of race relations and the treatment of women, plus there's ghosts, angry, protective ghosts. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
Why I liked it: Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All is a historical fiction novel set during WWII (my favorite genre and sub genre), but it is not just another war story. The novel focuses on life in a Chicago orphanage, but weaves in the issues of race relations and the treatment of women, plus there's ghosts: angry, protective ghosts.

The main character, Frankie, and her brother and sister grow up in an orphanage in Chicago because their mother is dead (spoiler: she is actually in a mental asylum for trying to shoot her father) and their father is unable to care for them (which also isn't entirely true; he remarries and takes his new wife's children with him plus his oldest son when he briefly moves out to Colorado).

Growing up in an orphanage is a harsh life, but also a protected one in ways Frankie (nor I) ever considered. When Frankie finally leaves the orphanage, she is uncomfortable being alone with grown men after being primarily raised by nuns; her only interaction with adult males was her fathers visits on Sundays and the priest at confession. Frankie doesn't know what to talk to other young women about who weren't raised in an orphanage, leaving her feeling lonely and isolated. Even grocery shopping and cooking for a single family are difficult because she's used to cooking in massive quantities in the orphanage kitchen. At the background of orphanage life is World War II. Frankie's brother is shipped out as well as her sweetheart Sam, who is quickly killed. Another girl at the orphanage, Stella, "collects" sweethearts who are shipping out and writes to them, but is mortified when she is unable to recognize one who returns home and proposes to her.

The novel is narrated by a ghost whose stories are interspersed with Frankie's (similar to Death's narration of The Book Thief). She is a young girl who has a child out of wedlock with a Chinese delivery boy. The readers learns that the young woman, Mercy, that she watches is the baby she was forced to give up for adoption after spending time in the same asylum as Frankie's mother. The narrator befriends another ghost, Marguerite, a Black young woman, who is similarly filled with anger. Marguerite was killed by the woman who wanted to marry the white man Marguerite was in love and in a relationship with. The narrator and Marguerite work through their rage together and Marguerite is able to find peace by reconciling with her family, while the narrator puzzles out that she was drowned by one of her brothers for ruining the family name.

Classroom application: I would recommend this one for upper middle school and up. There is death and some mild violence. Some students may struggle at the beginning the differentiate and connect the narrator's story and Frankie's. Students who love historical fiction or are World War II buffs will enjoy this one. You can find other books set during World War II here.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby is a historical fiction novel set during WWII, but it is not just another war story. The novel focuses on life in a Chicago orphanage, but weaves in the issues of race relations and the treatment of women, plus there's ghosts, angry, protective ghosts. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

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