Have you ever heard of the Flying Dutchman? No? Nor of the Wandering Jew? Well, it doesn’t matter. I’ll tell you about them in the right place; and about Helen and Joris, Adam and Konstam, and Vanessa, the sister Adam wanted to sell as a slave. They were all Homeward Bounders like me. And I’ll tell you about Them too, who made us that way.
The Homeward Bounders (1981) by Diana Wynne Jones (find it on Bookshop) is the rare type of book where the first paragraph shown above tells readers everything they can expect from it. For those who would like further elaboration, though, I offer my own summary.
The first twelve years of Jamie’s life were pretty great. Unfortunately it goes downhill after some badly timed exploring when Jamie finds himself in a mysterious garden that seems to have passed notice by his entire city. Inside the garden, in a building hidden from prying eyes, mysterious hooded figures lurk playing a strange game with the entire world as their game board.
Seeing Them at play, Jamie is discarded as a random factor left to wander the Bounds lest he corrupt the games’ integrity. His only hope is to find his own world at which time Jamie can “reenter play” and get back to the life and family he left behind.
Unfortunately, getting Home isn’t quite as easy as Jamie as thought. Drifting from world to world, it seems impossible to find the right one. (If this premise sounds at all like the 1990s TV show Sliders that’s because it is. Written in 1981, I have a strong suspicion that the show’s creators were familiar with this title.) Eventually, despite his literal detachment from any world he lands on, Jamie does find some allies. Along with Helen and Joris, children lost like him yet at the same time, nothing like children from Jamie’s Home, Jamie sets out to stop Them once and for all so that perhaps, he and the rest of the Homeward Bounders can finally rest.
The premise of The Homeward Bounders was interesting to read. It was impressive when I realized the the opening so neatly outlined the ensuing plot. That said, the book never grabbed my full attention the way other books so often do. While Jamie is extremely likable and clever, his first-person narration always felt like it was at a distance, which in a way is fair since the entire story is set up as a dictation. Toward the halfway point, my interest began to lag in direct proportion to the diminished action.
It’s a strange comparison, but this novel reads very similarly to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, like that Old English classics The Homeward Bounders is fundamentally an exercise in story telling. Jamie is telling readers his story, when he meets new allies he shares his story, they in turn explain their own path to becoming Homeward Bounders. While the story is dramatic, it is not action packed. The ending is also not all rosy greetings and victory parades.
On the other hand, Jones presents here a strong, literary fantasy novel with a great boy as the main character. An excellent choice for any students looking for suitable independent reading books in school.
Possible Pairings: Flight by Sherman Alexie, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, Planesrunner by Ian McDonald, Sliders (television series)