Some books give you a lot of information upfront. This story is happening in Missouri, they say. And here’s what the main character looks like, down to the mole on her left cheek—and here’s how she feels about that mole. Here are all her thoughts on school and, come on in, come meet every member of her immediate family, all in the first two chapters.
But not The Door on Half-Bald Hill. I was several chapters into this book before I felt like I had a real handle on who was narrating, what was happening, what this world was even like. I felt as though Helena Sorenson had grabbed my hand, said, “You need to see this!,” and swept me straight into a pitch-black cave. I didn’t know where we were going, but I learned right away that I trusted her as a storyteller. I was willing to follow, to see what she had planned.
By the end of the book, that narrow cave opened up into a cavern filled with phosphorescent wonders, and I promise to drop the metaphor now. Let me just say that Sorenson knew all along where she was going; she knew the wait would be worth the reward. Set on an island rather Celtic in atmosphere, about people who have lost much and are slowly losing what little they have left, Sorenson tells a story of hope in the face of oppressive darkness, light in the face of a swiftly falling night.
My daughter, already a fan of Sorenson’s Shiloh books, read The Door on Half-Bald Hill and gave me that glowy you-have-to-read-this-you’ll-love-it look when she finished. She was right. I loved it. You can’t see me, but I’m making that face now, at you.
Helena Sorenson’s essay on how she built the world of this book is fascinating. I commend it to readers and writers alike.
The Door on Half-Bald Hill
Helena Sorenson (2020)