Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes
Series: Wayward Children
Date Published: April 5th, 2016
Pages: 173 pages
Synopsis: Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children; No Solicitations, No Visitors, No Quests
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.
This is a spoiler-free review.
I loved this novel even more than I thought I would. It feels like a modern fairytale, complete with a dark and gritty subplot that lingers in the background. It is a weird and unusual story—the perfect amount of weird and unusual in my opinion. It involves the types of worlds that we all grew up reading and daydreaming about, but the book centers around the aftermath of being in those places. It deals with the harsh contrast between reality and fantasy, and how difficult it can be to immerge from that perfectly constructed fantasy back into a rather unaccepting reality.
The concept for this novel drew me in immediately, as it is by far the most unique take on fantasy and alternate worlds that I have ever heard of. Reading it felt like reading a fairytale retelling—even though it’s not—and it took me back to my childhood love of fantasy worlds in literature. The atmosphere and tone is a perfectly executed mix of eerie haunting, and whimsical whit and humor. In other words, this novel was totally written for me.
In this novel, we follow a young girl named Nancy during her first days at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. It is a special school that works to help reintroduce children who have visited fantastical worlds back into the real one. Nancy has a tough time adjusting to her new life, constantly believing she will once again find the door to her beloved world—the world where she felt that she finally fit in.
It is tough at first, but she realizes that the other students share many of her feelings, the only difference dividing them being their specific experiences and worlds. However, very soon after joining the school, a gruesome mystery begins to unfold—a darkness that has never fallen over this safe shelter. There is someone right under their noses with a malicious and twisted mind, carrying out horrifying acts, and Nancy and her friends are targeted as suspects by the other students. The group will have to work together to unravel this cryptic case before things get worse.
In a way, this novel feels sort of like a broken fairytale. It feels as if it is trying to subtly portray that transition in all of our lives as we grow into young adulthood. We always remain enchanted by inventive and mystical stories, but our world view is much less sugar coated. We can’t get quite as lost in fantasy, and at first, all we want to do is run back to that period of time where we could. Yet, however bleak it seems, we do come to terms with it, and find new life in those fantastical worlds.
I really liked the characters McGuire created for her story. Nancy had a solidly depicted personality right from the start, and she slowly evolved throughout the course of the novel, which is no simple task in a story this size. All of the personalities of the side characters were very well defined as well. They each reflected the world, the home, from which they had been pulled. It was a subtle detail that truly fleshed out the plot and made the story more tangible for the mind of the reader.
There was also some great diversity in this novel. For example, the main character, Nancy, is asexual, and one of her friends is transgender. The characters all come from different backgrounds and heritages, all joined together by a common experience. This also added further dimension and complexity into the characters and their parts in the plot as a whole.
McGuire’s writing style was very easy to read and flowed incredibly well throughout the entire narrative. Her words are deceptively simple. It was amazing how she managed to pack so much depth and feeling into such a small amount of pages. She delves into some important themes, like human behavior and how society deals with people they label as outsiders.
When writing a story that has a shorter than average number of pages, it is incredibly easy for characters to come across as bland and one-dimensional, and for the narrative itself to feel quite rushed and overloaded. At no point was this the case in McGuire’s story, which is a testament to her great writing talent. The novel is a short and fast-paced read that leaves you partially satisfied, but also extremely eager to spend more time in the world that she has created.
McGuire has produced a quirky, unique, and engrossing little story that is surprisingly captivating. It will come as no surprise that I highly recommend giving this novel a try. I don’t see how I will be able to stand the wait for the sequel, even though its release date is only a few months away.