Beneath the Sugar Sky, a novella by Seanan McGuire, finds us back in Eleanore West’s Home for Wayward Children—where the children who go to another world and then come back to ours go in hopes of finding their way back to that other world. When a girl in a cotton candy dress falls out of the sky and into the turtle pond, the students find their questing days aren’t yet over.
Rini—the girl who fell out of the sky—has come to get her mother Sumi and bring her back to the world of Confection—except was murdered in the first book in the Wayward Children series. Rini, Kade, Cora, Nadya, and Christopher decide to go on a quest to resurrect Sumi before the Queen of Cakes—whom Sumi was supposed to/will defeat—comes back from her own death to oppress Confection. Also, so Rini can exist in the first place—pieces of her keep disappearing. But first they have to find all the parts of Sumi—her bones, her soul, her shadow/nonsense. And to do that, they’ll have to travel to various worlds that aren’t quite home—but might be closer to home than Earth is.
Kade went to a world called Prism, where he killed the Goblin King then got tossed out for not being the little girl the world had thought he was. He doesn’t actually want to go back, but he doesn’t want to forget either. Instead, he plans to take over the school from his Aunt Eleanore when she goes senile and can cross back into the Nonsense world that’s her true home.
Cora is new to the school, having come back from the Trenches when she accidentally got caught in wrong whirlpool. She still expects to be called fat, as if the word meant monster, but that hasn’t happened at the School so far. Her hair is still growing green and blue from when she’d been a mermaid. In the Trenches, she’s a hero, able to swim further and deeper than any other mermaid, and she longs to go home.
Nadya also longs to go home, to the world of Belyyreka, where she’s a Drowned Girl and Queen of the Turtles. She’s almost too old to stay at the School—most children give up on finding their doors home by her age, and find a way to live in the “normal” world. But Nadya is still hoping to find her way back.
Christopher is waiting for his door to open and take him back to Mariposa and the Skeleton Girl, the love of his life and death. He carries a bone flute that only the dead can hear, a piece of magic brought back with him to Earth. It lets him raise skeletons from their graves—a handy talent, when seeking to bring the dead back to life.
In addition to the worlds the children come back from, there’s the worlds they travel to on their quest to resurrect Sumi. First, they must search out the graveyard where Sumi’s parents buried her, and Christopher must play up her bones.
Then to the Halls of the Dead, where Nancy—a former student—got to go home to. They’re hoping they can convince her to help them find Sumi’s soul—but first the students must bargain with the Lord and Lady of the Dead.
They must also travel to Confection, where, without Sumi alive to stop the Queen of Cakes, the world is warping its inhabitants to behave as if the Queen had never died.
Beneath the Sugar Sky is beautiful and brutal, dreadful but hopeful. There’s so much more to this little book, to the world and the children, than I have room to describe here. It stands on its own, if this is where you want to start, but I recommend reading the books in order (there’s a second book, a prequel, between this book and the first). I normally hate stories that involve time travel, but I loved Beneath the Sugar Sky. Go read it. Go read all the books in the Wayward Children series. They’ll transport you.