Finding Yourself in Where the Drowned Girls Go


Where the Drowned Girls Go

By Seanan McGuire

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Speculative Fiction

QUILTBAG Main Character: No 

QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes

Main Character of Color: Yes

Bechdel Test: Yes

Summary: There is a story of a girl who fell through a door into another world and fell back again into ours. That girl found a new home at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. That is a story you already know. But not all who find their door find their way to Eleanor’s Home. Some find, or even choose, a different place. Welcome to the Whitehorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help. The second step is forgetting.

Cora wants to forget. On her last adventure to save a friend, something invaded her mind. She can’t sleep, she can’t eat, and even the water, once her dearest friend, now holds only fears. She knows what she has to do. She leaves Eleanor West’s Home and her friends to head into the Whitehorn Institute, determined to be rid of the monsters who won’t let her go. There is more within the walls of the Institute than Cora could ever know, things that make it clear she needs to leave. No one escapes unless they graduate. But Cora is willing to try.

A Little Disclaimer:

I was given an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way altered my opinion of the book nor my review.

Let’s Get A Little Deep:

I am not a good swimmer. I technically can swim, more or less, but not very well. I mostly dog paddle. Still, there is something about being in a pool or any body of water that draws me in. I, like so many other young girls I knew, used to play at being a mermaid. I don’t think I put together the weightlessness of swimming until I was an adult. The way you can lean back and let the waves move you; how unconcerned with your BMI the water is, there is comfort in that, particularly to a fat girl. Where the Drowned Girls Go is, among other things, the story of girls whose body is both their own and not their own, and how they gain their power back. It is about finding weightlessness, even outside of water. 

Cora is a mermaid. Or was a mermaid. Or still is, depending on how you read the book. When she was a mermaid, no one cared that she was fat, only how well she could swim, how much she could protect her beloved underwater home. Gone were the bullies who never let her be anything other than the fat girl, gone were the adults that were just as bad as the kids; instead there was Cora, her fellow merfolk, and the certainty of her own body. Then, a current too strong for Cora pulled her back into her body, into the world that refused to love someone who looked like her. For a while, Cora found a kind of peace in Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward children. Here, at least, the mean-spirited comments were never about her weight. That comfort, the comfort of friends and being seen, is shattered when a quest goes wrong. Now, Cora can’t sleep and water is no longer a sweet dream, but a nightmare.

Enter the Whitehorn Institute with its promise to make you forget. Cora needs to forget, needs to rid her mind of the monsters that promise both life and destruction. She enrolls, knowing it is the only way to save her fragile mind. But the Institute doesn’t just want her to forget the monsters. It would have her forget everything, including the blissful underwater homeland. Cora has choices to make and few friends to rely on in a place that discourages friendship. Will she and her few allies make it out before everything they are is stripped away?

As you may have seen from my previous post, I’m a big fan of the Wayward Children series. Cora was one of my favorites almost from the moment she arrived on screen. I was a fat child. I’m a fat adult. I’m lucky in that my bullies were not nearly as harsh as Cora’s, but I certainly had, and have, my fair share of people who think I am somehow worth less than a skinny person. Cora’s character is deeper than the ocean, full of wants and dreams, fears and wonders. People can’t seem to see those, though, instead seeing only what is on the outside. 

Throughout the course of the novel, Cora and the other characters systematically have their bodily and mental autonomy stripped. We watch as adults who “know better,” force them into different clothes, into eating different foods, into gaslighting their own experiences. Who you are doesn’t matter so long as you are contributing to society after all. The mostly female student population is discouraged from making friends and encouraged to make fun of anyone who doesn’t fit in. This place can strip everything from you, and it will.

Where the Drowned Girls Go is a powerful story about finding power in your own mind, finding the strength to know your own worth. It takes a lot to decide our bodies are our own. Even as an adult, I struggle with this truth. As Cora finds the will to fight the monsters in her head, she gains the willpower and strength to fight the monsters in the halls of the Institute. Not only that, but she uses this insight to help those around her, pulling them into their own truths. It is a stunning, achingly beautiful story that means the absolute world to me.

You’ll have to wait until January of 2022 for this book, but the wait is worth it. Until then, I suggest pre-ordering your copy now. This series gets better with every additional book so you absolutely will not be disappointed!

Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love Where the Drowned Girls Go? Leave a comment telling me what mythical creature you loved as a kid. You can also find me on Instagram @booked.with.grace and on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@ynbushehri) for editing my posts.

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