Not-So-New Books: The Homeward Bounders

The Homeward Bounders
By Diana Wynne Jones

Jamie is a curious kid. And one day, his curiosity gets him in the worst kind of trouble when he stumbles on a group of shadowy, cloaked figures playing a secret game and gets expelled from his world by them: “You are now a discard. We have no further use for you in play. You are free to walk the Bounds, but it will be against the rules for you to enter play in any world. If you succeed in returning Home, then you may enter play again in the normal manner.”

As Jamie stumbles through his new circumstances, figuring out the rules of the game as he’s pulled from fantastic world to fantastic world (Diana Wynne Jones is a genius when it comes to creating worlds) at irregular intervals by Them, he dreams of finding his way home. What he finds instead are two friends in the same position he is: Helen, a priestess with a magic arms, and Joris, an assistant to a famous demon-hunter. Together, they decide that it’s time to put an end to Their manipulative gaming and to get back to their own worlds for good. They end up in up in a contemporary version of England, where they team up with two regular people and Joris’s demon-hunter owner who’s crossed world barriers to find his assistant. But defeating Them is no easy task, and the price for victory may be greater than they anticipated.

I love Diana Wynne Jones for many reasons, but one of them is that her books are always surprising—even though she often plays with the same ideas, the same worlds, and even the same characters, you can never predict what’s going to happen next in her books. Homeward Bounders was the first of her books I read as a kid, and it stuck with me—it’s so weird and compelling, and it has one of the best and saddest last lines of any story ever. I love the way her books blend the mythology and history we know with her own made-up history and mythology, so that you’re constantly realizing connections right along with the characters in the story. There’s always an undercurrent of darkness in her books, and it’s definitely strong in this one, but I like that her happy endings are never simple. Reading level-wise, this is a middle grades book, but like so many of Diana Wynne Jones’s books, it’s hard to pigeonhole. Older or younger readers could definitely love it.