Out there in the Children’s Literature blog world, it’s Diana Wynne Jones Week.
When we started off this blog at the beginning of the year, Eight Days of Luke was the first featured post. There’s a reason for that! Diana Wynne Jones has been my favorite author since I found Witch’s Business on my local library shelf when I was in elementary school. After that, I made sure to find every new book she wrote as it came out. I still have my own tattered, much-loved and often transported collection of (mostly) first editions of the books right beside my computer at home. They’re my “comfort books”, the books I reach for first to reread and lose myself in a different world.
It’s difficult to pick my favorite from Diana Wynne Jones title, because they’re all my so good! Howl’s Moving Castle, Charmed Life and The Ogre Downstairs are probably the titles I recommend most often to our fantasy readers. I would love to see Fire and Hemlock, The Magicians of Caprona and Archer’s Goon being read more often, but they’re more difficult to book talk to the uninitiated DWJ fan. The book I love that seems most often overlooked (in my opinion) is The Homeward Bounders.
The cover (of the original hardcover, which I can’t find anywhere online) is very ominous, with figures in black hooded capes walking through a battlefield, with an old-fashioned clipper ship and a pink fortress in the background. The book starts with Jamie in the headquarters of Them, telling his story into a computer, which is printing out his words.
Jamie was a normal kid, growing up in a world with not much technology. One day, playing football in the streets (soccer to us Americans), he kicks the ball over a large wall. Not wanting to lose it, he climbs the wall and finds himself in a strange garden. Unfortunately for Jamie, curiosity got the better of him, and he snuck up on the house to see what the people inside were doing. Little did he know that They weren’t exactly of Jamie’s world. Because he interrupted Their game, he was thrown out of the house.
Unaware that his life has completely changed, Jamie climbs out of the garden and tries to go home. But the world over the garden wall is not the world he left; it looks similar, but the buildings are slightly different, and the people he knew just aren’t there. Trying to understand what has happened, Jamie returns to Their fortress, and They tell him he’s a discard. Jamie follows a tugging sensation to a small triangle in the garden, and suddenly, he’s in a completely different world.
Jamie has to use his wits to survive; everything about his life has changed. He’s now a Homeward Bounder, along with a few hundred other people who’ve managed to see what They were up to in Their places along all the parallel worlds. He can’t stop moving until he finds his way back to his own world again–but there are thousands of worlds out there, some only slightly different, and some amazingly so. Is it even possible for him to find Home? As Jamie meets legendary wanderers like The Flying Dutchman, he becomes jaded, traveling the bounds, cycling around the worlds, always trying to find his way back to his family.
As the youngest walker of the bounds out in the worlds, Jamie finds his situation dangerous. He does have some hope though, as he meets a giant who reassures him that there is a way to get Home. Then circumstances change and he meets two new Homeward Bounders about his own age, Helen and Joris. Can he help his new friends (or maybe friendly enemies) figure out the bounds and find their homes? Or can they perhaps help him end his wandering and find his way back to his own home world?
Originally published in 1981 when war games like Dungeons and Dragons were popular, this would be a great book to give to gamers. Even though it’s perhaps a bit more bleak than DWJ’s other books, her trademark humor shines through, especially once Joris comes into the picture. I also love her theory of parallel worlds that is featured in the Chrestomanci books, which may have started with Jamie’s story. Fans of books with dystopian futures like Hunger Games or City of Ember would also enjoy Jamie’s story. And of course, fans of other books by Diana Wynne Jones will like The Homeward Bounders as well, even if you might have to do a bit of searching to find it.
Appropriate for good fourth and fifth grade readers, but probably most enjoyed by middle school readers. And Diana Wynne Jones fans of all ages.