cover image Going Through the Gate

Going Through the Gate

Janet Anderson. Dutton Books, $15.99 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-525-45836-4

In this emotionally resonant first novel, sixth-grade graduation from a one-room schoolhouse is a mystical rite and the subject of local legend. Five children are about to literally ""go through the gate,"" their small town's term for graduation. All five--including thoughtful Becky, cynical Tim and self-sacrificing Mary Margaret--have been given particular animals to study by their antiquated and charismatic teacher. Going through the gate at the bottom of the school yard, the children enter an enchanted glen where they transform briefly into their chosen animals and return to their human forms with a newfound understanding of themselves and the world. But the experience involves serious risks, especially for those who aren't happy in their human skins. Anderson (The Key into Winter) uses a spare style that emphasizes the physical sensations of each child, such as this example of a boy becoming a frog: ""What he was wasn't a tadpole anymore. He had legs now, and lungs, he could finally breathe. Now that he had all his parts, he could finally breathe."" Although the near-suicide of saintly Mary Margaret verges on the maudlin, there is a tangible thrill to the atmosphere of the mysterious town, where cats are never allowed to hunt and honey is spread on trees for the ants. A moving fantasy that brilliantly evokes the fear and exhilaration of growing up. Ages 9-12. (Oct.)