We’ve all heard the stories of children who have gone away. Gone to Oz, gone to Narnia, gone to Neverland. This is the story of the children who came back.
Every Heart a Doorway is a novella by Seanan McGuire, award winning author of the InCryptid and October Daye series. It is written for the young adult (YA) market, though as an adult I thoroughly enjoyed it. McGuire has created a fantasy within our reality so convincing that I was left wondering whether…well, I was left wondering.
In this story, McGuire builds a school for Wayward Children – the children who have come back, unwillingly, through their doors. These children have trouble adjusting to the world they were born in – our world isn’t home anymore.
She appoints the elegant and eccentric Eleanor West as the headmistress who collects these children; keeping them safe from well-meaning parents until, or if, they find their doors again.
We learn about the Wayward Children through Nancy, recently returned from the Halls of the Dead. There, her once ebony hair was turned white save the five streaks touched by the fingers of the Lord of the Dead. She learned to be still and silent, spending her days as a living statue in service to the Lady. Nancy was happy. But to stay in another world one must be sure, so Nancy was returned to her parents until she decides to return for good.
Like all the other children and teenagers at Eleanor’s school, Nancy is sure. She is searching for the door to take her home.
What I loved most about Every Heart a Doorway was that it completely laid waste to normal YA novel conventions. The tone is anything but hopeful – we understand from the beginning that the characters will probably never return home – they must learn to adjust to a world that no longer fits.
McGuire also eliminates the usual YA love triangle: Nancy is asexual. She does not have a choice to make about which girl or boy she wants – she wants none of them. Aside from a small asexual crush on Kade, a boy who was born a girl, Nancy’s inner musings centre around going home.
I was delighted by McGuire’s approach to diverse characters, especially in terms of their sexuality. She does not make their diversity their whole story. Nancy is asexual. Kade is transgender. But they are plainly more than that.
The plot centres around the ritualistic murders of students. Though these murders are not particulary hard to solve they are not the point of the story. Instead, as we watch the characters interact with one another to try and solve them, their voices and desolate stories carry the narrative.
These are teenagers struggling to find a place they can fit in. They are dealing with the grief of losing their true homes, but they also deal with very real issues of sexuality and belonging, something every teen can relate to.
I was delighted to discover this book is the first in a series which takes us behind the doors of the other Wayward Children. I read them all in quick succession and each is as beautiful a tale as Nancy’s.
Every Heart a Doorway is haunting and beautiful, melancholy and mysterious. It is tightly and taughtly told, sparing no room for frivolous feelings or backstories. Each and every word has earned its place in this novella.
Fans of fantasy should give this book a chance. It will move you in ways you might not realise. But when you find yourself wondering ‘is that a door?’, you’ll know.
“You’re nobody’s doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”
Eleanor West – Every Heart A Doorway