When I was a kid, I read my paperback copy of Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones so many times that the binding fell apart. As much as I enjoyed it, I remember having a lot of questions during my rereads. For example, I can remember wondering, “Why does it seem like I am supposed to
When I was a kid, I read my paperback copy of Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones so many times that the binding fell apart. As much as I enjoyed it, I remember having a lot of questions during my rereads. For example, I can remember wondering, “Why does it seem like I am supposed to know who Chrestomanci is?” when he showed up very late in the story.
Then came a realization: there must be other books that had introduced him already! Context clues made me realize that Witch Week was one book in a series, and so I sought them out. I became a wholehearted Diana Wynne Jones fan and read all of her books I could track down, including the grown-up ones.
Years later, when Harry Potter was reaching great heights of popularity, there were book ads that read, “Mad about Harry? Try Diana!” While excellent advice generally, I think we can get a little more granular than that. Diana Wynne Jones was a prolific author, and while her work is broadly within the same genre (with shades of different target audiences), it is quite varied in some ways.
There have been thematic guides to where to start reading the work of Diana Wynne Jones already, so I’ll take a page from the librarians’ book (only virtually, I would never remove a page from a library book) and recommend some read-alikes instead, in order to introduce you to one of my favorite authors. And I’ll keep the descriptions short, because the selling point of almost all of these books is a breathtaking reveal around three quarters into the plot. Even if you can figure it out while you’re reading, I don’t want to spoil it before you even begin!
Let’s assume you already enjoy contemporary children’s and young adult speculative fiction:
If you love The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert and Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman try Fire and Hemlock! In this YA novel, the protagonist deals with weird stuff that breaks the boundaries between her regular life and extremely strong supernatural forces. Also, Neil Gaiman loves Diana Wynne Jones.
If you love Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren, try Archer’s Goon! Similarly, a house has secrets and they turn out to be connected to the passage of time. In Archer’s Goon specifically, there is a lovable, imperfect family dealing with being besieged by a less lovable, more powerful family.
If you love the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan, try Eight Days of Luke! It’s aimed at a slightly younger readership but, like Riordan, Jones presents characters from mythology in a fresh and contemporary way.
If you love the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, try the Chrestomanci series! In both books, a kid must grapple with confusion about what kind of role he seems destined to play in the awesome, gripping adventures that swirl around him. I recommend you read The Lives of Christopher Chant first and go from there. There are many Chrestomanci books, and after a while they change focus and subgenre, but that’s a good one to start with.
If you love Shadowshaper by Daniel J. Older, try Deep Secret! The two protagonists in both books narrate their dual lives first in the regular contemporary world, with computers and role-playing games and expensive sandwiches at conventions, and then their discovery that there is a bigger supernatural world than they’d ever expected.
But maybe you aren’t so well-versed in contemporary children’s and young adult books, or you tend to read the older classics of the field instead? Well, in that case:
If you love books by E. Nesbit, try Witch’s Business! It similarly presents kids outdoors on their own trying new activities in ways that intermingle with the supernatural and, incidentally, class politics. It was also published as Wilkin’s Tooth, so go ahead with that one if you find it.
If you love Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, try The Dalemark Quartet! The first one is Cart and Cwidder, which will introduce you to the new, magical world in which these epic stories take place.
If you love the premise and plot of Ender’s Game (regardless of how you might feel about Orson Scott Card’s politics), try Hexwood! In it, the main character finds herself stuck in a genre-bending technological and magical game.
And hey, maybe you tend to spend more time thinking about movies and TV than you do about young adult or middle grade novels? That’s fine! I recommend:
If you love the Miyazaki movie Howl’s Moving Castle, try reading Howl’s Moving Castle!
…. I’m not sure I need to explain any more about this one, honestly.
If you like the beloved TV show Quantum Leap, try reading Homeward Bounders! In it, the main character must bounce from world to world, trying to figure out the strange connection between them all.
You have before you an amazing opportunity, one that no longer exists for me: you get to read these books for the first time. I reread Deep Secret every year when I attend my favorite annual conference for work, and I love doing it, but believe me when I say it’s not the same as getting to experience the characterizations and reveals for the very first time.
Perhaps one of these books will erupt for you into a whole volcano of reading and loving Diana Wynne Jones’ work overall. When you get there, you won’t be alone. There are a lot of us in the volcano, and several will be gathering next year at a conference organized by Farah Mendlesohn. If you hurry, you can probably get deep enough into the fandom in time to join them. Start now!