The Silver Gate by Kristin Bailey
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Published: January 2017
Genre: middle grade, fantasy, historical
In shepherd boy Elric’s tiny village, people think children like his younger sister, Wynn, are changelings-left by fairies and doomed to curse all around them. As a baby, Wynn was born with developmental delays, and according to the rules, she was supposed to be abandoned in the woods.
Instead Elric’s mother saved his sister and hid her away for eleven years. They live in secret and fear of being discovered, yet their home is full of love, laughter, and singing. Wynn and Elric’s favorite song is about the Silver Gate, a beautiful fairy realm where all children are welcome.
But when their long-absent father returns to sell Wynn to the Lord’s castle as a maid, Elric realizes that folk songs and fantasies can’t protect them from the outside world. They have to run away. Still Wynn believes there’s only one place they’ll ever be safe, and it lies beyond the Silver Gate.
The road to freedom is long and treacherous. If they have any hope for survival, Elric and Wynn must learn to depend on each other above everything else-and discover the magic that always reveals itself when it seems like all is lost.
When Elric discovers his father sold his sister Wynn to the Lord’s castle as a lowly maid after their mother’s death, Elric convinces Wynn to run away with him under the pretense of a game: to search for the Silver Fate, a place made up in the fairytales their mother told them. But as they continue their journey across the land in hopes of finding refuge in a convent or village, the siblings begin to realize just how difficult life can be on their own. But Wynn believes in the Silver Gate, she believes in the magic, and it’s up to Elric to open his eyes and see it too.
“I will not expose this abbey to an unfit soul.” The abbess turned her hard glare back to Wynn, as if she could crush her with the power of her words. “We have taken a vow of poverty. What resources we have must be devoted to God and the good women who come here from noble families to pursue their devotion and study. We must not waste.”
I was only 60 pages into this when the siblings’ relationship made me cry. It’s so beautiful, heartfelt, and strong. Elric is of course frustrated with his younger sister just like any older sibling would be — but he has such a deep love for her that it just ripped me apart. Add on another important layer to this story: Wynn has Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome. One in every 125,000 births have this. These individuals have learning disabilities and physical defects that mark them as “other.” Toss in this novel’s setting — Celtic in origin, Middle Ages — and society rejects these individuals as halfwits or changelings. So to see this sibling relationship, and feel it every step and struggle throughout their journey…oh gosh. Tears. Everywhere.
“I can’t believe,” he admitted in a soft voice as he stroked his thumb over the surface of the stone. “If I believed in fairies, that would mean they switched you for another baby. It would mean you’re not my sister.”
Wynn is the true hero of this story. She urges her brother and the reader to believe — mind, body, and soul — in the power of the imagination, in magic, in make-believe. She may not be able to build a fire, she doesn’t pack the right things, it’s hard for her to remember things if she doesn’t ruminate on them over and over, and she may not speak very well, but her mind and creativity is her saving refuge. Her insistence that the Silver Gate is more than the stuff of bedtime stories and folk songs shows just how powerful magic can be. What a beautiful, smart girl.
And what a beautiful, smart, rich, heart-wrenching story of love, sacrifice, and imagination!
This qualifies as book 3 of 5 library books in 2017.