The Homeward Bounders
By Diana Wynne Jones
Greenwillow Books, 1981
The Homeward Bounders is a children's and young adult fantasy/science fiction novel. It is not part of her Chrestomanci series, but does deal with multiple worlds of varying levels of magic and technological development.
Twelve-year-old James is a fairly normal boy -- he enjoys playing football, he dislikes chores and school, and he often pokes his nose in where it doesn't belong. One day, when exploring an interesting old park that that he clearly isn't supposed to be exploring, he comes across two mysterious beings playing some sort of tabletop dice game... consisting, apparently, of his entire world.
The mysterious beings, referred to simply as Them, declare him a random factor, and 'discard' him. They determine that an extra corpse, at just this place and time, would be problematic, so he will be thrown to the 'bounds'. He will not be allowed to interfere with any game, but will be allowed to travel across games. If he finds his way back to his own world, he may re-enter play in the usual manner.
James quickly discovers that this is a monumental task, as there are (at the very least) thousands of worlds being played, and many of them are happy to try to kill or enslave him. He learns that there are a number of homeward bounders, including such luminaries as the Wandering Jew and the Flying Dutchman. Those particular bounders are not much use, as they have given up on the possibility of affecting their fate long ago. However, Jamie eventually finds his way into the company of some younger bounders whose hate for Them is still fresh, and who might be able to do something about Them.
This is a very good book, and I would normally recommend it to young and young-at-heart readers, but in the case of Diana Wynne Jones I recommend starting with the Chrestomanci series, both because they are a bit more accessible and because they are easier to find. The Homeward Bounders uses a fair number of British slang and idioms that are not familiar to Americans, and I suspect, not necessarily all that common in Britain. It also has some fairly twisty logic in its backstory, which makes for some dense reading and may lead some readers to question if it actually makes any sense. Despite this, it is an enjoyable read, and one of the better children's fantasy books to come out of the 1980s.
Accelerated Reader Level: 4.7