Every Heart a Doorway
By Seanan McGuire
Genre: Speculative Fiction
QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes
Main Character of Color: No
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: We have all heard the stories of children finding other worlds. They fall through a door in our world and into the world of another. Nancy fell through such a door and then, suddenly and against her will, she fell back into her original world. The experience on the other side of the doorway has left her changed and her parents unsure how to help her until they hear about Elanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Nancy’s parents think they are sending her to your standard strict boarding school, when in reality, the students at Miss West’s school have all fallen in and out of such doors. Nancy is waiting to be called back to her real home beyond our world, but her arrival at the Home marks a sudden and dark change. It’s up to Nancy and her new friends to discover the truth of this awful mystery, no matter the price.
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
Am I too late to get on the Wayward Children series train? No? Fantastic because I am six months in and have already completed the entirety of the books already published and am twiddling my thumbs for January when Where the Drowned Girls Go comes out. I was one of those kids that grew up on stories of children being whisked off to other worlds and that obsession has carried on into my adult reading as well. I wanted to be that kid finding the magic door, the portal, to be spirited away to a land different from my own. Truth be told, I still feel that way as an adult, that’s why I read so much speculative fiction. What makes Every Heart a Doorway unique, though, is how it shows the aftermath of those stories and the tenderness it gives to children with trauma.
Nancy found a door. It did not lead to a land of eternal winter or a mystical library or any of the other places one might imagine. It led to a pomegranate grove and the land of the dead, where stillness and quiet were valued and rewarded. Nancy grew used to those quiet, still halls. Then, she was thrown back into the world of her birth with its noisy, chaotic, perpetual motion. While Nancy wants to return to her home, the Land of the Dead, her parents want their old daughter back. They want her dressed in bright colors, to be talkative and active, not this monochromatic eerily motionless stranger.
When a representative of Elanor West’s Home for Wayward Children arrives and offers Nancy a spot there, her parents take it, hoping it will set her right. In reality, this is not some home for children who have run away or been kidnapped, but a safe place for other children who found doors and found themselves back. People understand Nancy here, or, at least, understand more than her parents. But something dark is happening in the school and Nancy is a prime suspect for the atrocities. It’s up to her and her new friends to solve this riddle and, in doing so, bring peace to the school. Everything has a price, Nancy knows this. What is someone willing to do to go back through their door?
The beauty of Every Heart a Doorway is the empathy and love that it shows to these children. We never think too hard about the children who come back from the doorway. Sure, we see them a little bit. We see Sarah in Labyrinth tell Hoggle that she does still need him and the fantasy world every now and then. We see the Pevensie children return (or at least, some of them, #justiceforSusan) back to Narnia. But what happens to those that go home and never come back? What is a child who has seen a world that fits them better than the one they were born into supposed to do when unceremoniously kicked out of that perfect world?
Nancy doesn’t fit in with her parents or within the confines of her old life. She doesn’t really even fit in amongst the children of Elanor West’s school. Even for those with darker doors, Nancy’s is seen as an antithesis. After all, these children mostly come from worlds with almost too much life, whereas Nancy’s was concerned entirely with death. Of course she feels out of place, of course she hides within herself because what she wants is to be still — still like how she learned to be where that motionlessness was seen as an asset.
The characters in this story are traumatized not because of where they were, but because of who the world is attempting to force them to be. Even the ultimate antagonist of the story one cannot help but empathize with. Yes, they do horrific things, but who wouldn’t when facing a world that not only doesn’t understand you, but also doesn’t love you — a world that wants to force you to dress a certain way, think a certain way, love a certain way, be a certain way. This book is like a gentle hug from a friend, a friend who sees these children desperate to escape to a world that understands them. It holds them tight and whispers, “I know, I know, me too, but it’s going to be okay.”
Every Heart a Doorway is a quick, addictive read that will leave you ready to devour the entire series. I would recommend it to anyone who feels constrained by the expectations of this world, especially the kids who looked into every wardrobe and walked into every fairy circle. And for the adults who still find themselves sighing when their hands touch wood at the back of the wardrobe, who never did find themselves that hidden archway in the woods.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love Every Heart a Doorway? Leave a comment telling me what kind of world you wish you’d found as a child. You can also find me on Instagram @booked.with.grace and on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@ynbushehri) for editing my posts