These are both very short sf children's novels which I read while doing laundry yesterday. The Key novel is Scholastic and the Norton is Avon Camelot with the big C, and both editions, though I'd never read those particular books before, brought back fond memories of childhood reading.

The Norton is decent but the Key is excellent-- more haunting and less predictable. Both are about prejudice, albeit very different varieties, and the necessity of belief in things unseen. I think both are out of print and obscure.

Every Alexander Key book I've read so far has been about a kid or kids with psychic powers who ends up on the run from people who want to exploit him or her. In THE FORGOTTEN DOOR (1965), Jon, a boy from another world, falls through a door while watching a meteor shower, and lands in America. He can read the minds of animals and people, pick up English in a day, and alter gravity. But he doesn't remember who he is or where he's from.

He immediately runs afoul of a nasty bigoted couple, who tell the whole town about him until he becomes a scapegoat for anyone trying to cover up a petty crime or express their hatred of the Other. Luckily, he also falls in with the open-minded Bean family, who start by taking him in and end up risking everything for him.

It's a fast-paced, linear, simply-told story, but its simplicity masks a surprising depth. It's not an allegory, but the way the Bean family begins with a good deed of the easy sort (helping an injured child) and ends up putting their lives, livelihood, and even the lives of their own children on the line for him has all sorts of resonances in recent history, from the Holocaust to the Civil Rights Movement. But it's much less preachy than it easily could have been.

The startling ending is a result of Key taking his premise to its logical conclusion. It's touching and much more poetically written than most of the book, but though it's a happy ending for the good guys, it has dark implications for the world as a whole.

Andre Norton's OUTSIDE (1974) is hampered by a premise which predicts its own conclusion. Kristie and her older brother Lew are children living with packs of other other children in a domed-in city. The cities were all closed off because the world outside was made uninhabitable by pollution, and the adults all died of a plague. Now the kids are doing their best to survive, but the machines that keep the city running are falling apart, and no one knows how to repair them.

Kristie dreams of going outside, to the wonderful world of plants and animals that she sees in old videos. But everyone tells her that Outside is barren and all the animals are dead, and anyway there's no way out.

Obviously, with this premise, it will turn out that Outside is Eden. I can think of ways to make it less predictable, of which the most interesting would probably be that Outside isn't as bad as people think, but it's still full of dangerous mutant plants and animals, and that once the kids get into it, they'll face a whole new set of problems. (This is similar to the plot of Norton's THE STARS ARE OURS!) But OUTSIDE is too short a book to do that.

Norton does come up with an unusual twist on how the kids get outside, a mysterious Pied Piper figure. But while the book has a good narrative drive, it's ultimately too predictable and doesn't have enough resonance outside of its obvious messages. Also, though the text indicates that Lew is a teenager, maybe twenty at the most, the pictures show him as a thirty-something man with an embarrassingly seventies haircut and soup-strainer moustache. This is particularly jarring because he's not in any of the illustrations until near the end of the book.
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