Title: Backdoor Key
Genre: YA fiction / Fiction / Contemporary fiction
In djr’s Backdoor Key, Molly Chapman is a twenty-year-old with no ambition or prospects for her future beyond continuing to live with her middle-class family. Her friends are all moving on with their lives, leaving Molly wondering what she wants to do with hers. When a family friend offers her an opportunity to fix up a deceased couple’s house, she takes on the project for the money, but it turns into more than she can handle, to the point that she begins questioning her own identity as an unexpected mystery unfolds within the walls.
Backdoor Key is a coming-of-age story, where much of the conflict resides within the protagonist. Although Molly struggles as the middle child who doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of her family, misunderstood by her parents, ridiculed by her older brothers, and scorned by her younger sisters, she often fights with herself about what she really wants out of life. While part of her seems content to laze at home with no job or college degree, the clock is mercilessly ticking as she sees her friends all getting jobs and education…and moving on with their lives. This type of narrative may ring true for many readers, especially younger ones who are questioning their own direction. Even older readers may relate to Molly’s uncertainty about her future and reflect on a time when they were at a crossroads in their younger days.
As Molly learns more about the couple, Natalie and Walter Vernon, whose house she suddenly spends most of her time in, she can’t seem to stay away. Djr uses details like Molly spending hours looking through the Vernons’ travel photo albums and listening to Walter’s HiFi record player to draw the reader into her experience. The author does an outstanding job of showing Molly’s slow spiral into her obsession with the house and the Vernons, to the point that her friends and family begin to wonder about her sanity and wellbeing. Rather than painting, she is listening to record albums and taking valuables.
Molly thinks, acts, and says things on compulsion, expecting others to understand her need to discover what is supposedly hidden behind a covered-over door on one wall. Because the narrative is written in present-tense, first-person point-of-view, we are forced to see everything through Molly’s eyes. She is an unreliable narrator, which renders the story limited to her confused mind and helps keep the mystery and intrigue alive.
The reader isn’t sure whether to cheer for Molly or shake her, as she seems to go against all sense as the story builds to the climax. Some of the early clues about what the house hides feel a bit too obvious and telling, and the discerning, careful reader may be able to solve part of the mystery before it is revealed. However, even when Molly discovers the truth about the Vernons, the reason behind it is still unclear, which propels further reading.
In Backdoor Key, Molly’s vulnerability and insecurity ultimately endear her to the reader because she is sympathetic. Backdoor Key is indeed about a key to learning a young woman’s heart and soul. The author, djr, crafts a coming-of-age story that is simultaneously relatable and intriguing.
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