Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor (MacMillan)
Release Date: April 4, 2016
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
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 things.
No matter the cost.
You know, I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when I was a kid, and I never thought about what it would be like for Alice when she went back to where she’d started. I figured she’d just shrug and get over it. But I can’t do that.
This novel shook me to my core and swept me up in a whirlwind of magic and loss and hope and dreams. It was an answer to a question I never thought to ask, a way to fill a void in fantasy literature: what happens when the children come back from the magical land they found?
Nancy was a fantastically complex character. Watching her certainty fade to hope and then dwindle to despair and longing was heartbreaking, but she was a riveting character to follow. She’s also asexual, which was a pleasant surprise to me*, and her friendship with a trans boy made this a queer novel that didn’t feel especially queer, but instead portrayed these characters as no more unique than anyone else; how can you judge a girl for being ace when her classmates lived in worlds with checkerboard skies, dancing skeleton populations, or Goblin wars?
* I remember now this was originally rec’ed to me as an asexual novel, but I’d forgotten that aspect when I opened it on my tablet. Happy surprise!
The other children at the boarding school– all who have returned from very different magical worlds– coexist in a fragile understanding: few if any of them will get to return to the world they called home, but to say so aloud and destroy that hope is unthinkable.
‘Real’ is a four-letter word, and I’ll thank you to use it as little as possible while you live under my roof.
There is also a mystery that develops halfway through the novel. I’ll admit that I wasn’t as thrilled with this plot, although I do think it allowed more characters to shine, and gave the plot the action it was otherwise lacking. That said, the mystery felt predictable to me. But in the end it’s not the mystery that’s important, but instead the way the characters grow as a result.
McGuire has written a stunningly gorgeous novel about what happens when people return from their magical worlds, and it’s exceptional. The inclusion of an asexual main character just made this novel all the more powerful for me. I highly, highly recommend this to anyone who’s ever read Narnia or Alice or any of the Oz books.
No, wait. I highly recommend this to everyone.
This book was recommended to me by Jim at YA Yeah Yeah, who I hope will be pleased to know he has introduced me to a new favorite.
Seanan McGuire is the author of the October Daye urban fantasy series, the InCryptid series, and several other works, both standalone and in trilogies. She also writes darker fiction as Mira Grant.
Seanan lives in a creaky old farmhouse in Northern California, which she shares with her cats, a vast collection of creepy dolls, and horror movies, and sufficient books to qualify her as a fire hazard.
She was the winner of the 2010 John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and in 2013 she became the first person ever to appear five times on the same Hugo ballot.