Sanctuary by Andi C. Buchanan. Robot Dinosaur Press (2022). RRP: $17.99. Pb, 312 pp. ISBN: 978-0-473-60048-8. Reviewed by Ray Shipley
For all the supernatural activity at play in Sanctuary, at the heart of this book is something very worldly: a group of people carving out a space and a home that works for them in a society that often makes their lives very difficult. Morgan, our narrator, lives in a large, crumbling, cold house with a chosen family – neurodivergent, disabled, queer people who’ve found ways of living together so that their needs are met; a safe haven, a sanctuary that protects and strengthens them.
The quiet support, careful communication, shared meals, and gentle love that exists between these characters is so tenderly fleshed out in Buchanan’s writing – there’s time spent here on things that are often not given second thought. Household admin, sensory experiences, and mental health are given space to be talked about, and it’s so clear that for these characters, it’s simply a non-negotiable about living alongside one another.
It’s feels only natural then, that this tight knittightknit household would open itself up to others who perhaps cannot find safe places to go – others, like the ghosts that roam the halls, join the group at the dinner table (for the company of course, not the food), and generally live peacefully alongside the humans at Casswell Park.
“We’re a family, the eight of us absolutely, but we’re also a family that is flexible, fluid at the edges. A family that expands rather than polices its border.” (p.page 109)
The ghosts are simply an expansion of the borders of family – their needs as deserving of time and respect as the others in the home, despite the differences in corporeality and communication styles.
When a collection of bottles with trapped ghosts inside is dropped at their door, a centuries old, power-hungry ghost collector is unleashed on the household, and they must use all their strengths to return their home to the sanctuary it was. This unfolding mystery, culminating in a battle for their home, struggles to hold the same grip as the domesticity of family life. The action, when it comes, feels stilted in places – the pacing of those intentional, warm conversations around the dinner table is too rigid to move into something more fluid as the action develops. Especially as the tension builds, it feels as though there is a barrier built into the narration that stops the reader just short of being fully immersed.
This challenge aside, Sanctuary offers some wonderful, truly engaging snapshots of the joys of ‘chosen family’. Buchanan gifts readers a remarkable possibility – a diverse range of people living full, generous lives in community with one another, in ways that are respectful and inclusive of difference. It shouldn’t be radical, but it feels that way.