Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Rating: Rating: ★★★★☆
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 the matter.
No matter the cost.
Reality is harsh, even more so if you’ve been one of the numbers of children who went through magical portals to otherworldly lands, like Wonderland, or Narnia. Imagine escaping to a land magical beyond your dreams.
“I was looking for a bucket in the cellar of our house, and I found this door I’d never seen before. When I went through, I was in a grove of pomegranate trees. I thought I’d fallen and hit my head. I kept going because … because…”
Because the air had smelled so sweet, and the sky had been black velvet, spangled with points of diamond light that didn’t flicker at all, only burned constant and cold. Because the grass had been wet with dew, and the trees had been heavy with fruit. Because she had wanted to know what was at the end of the long path between the trees, and because she hadn’t wanted to turn back before she understood everything. Because for the first time in forever, she’d felt like she was going home, and that feeling had been enough to move her feet, slowly at first, and then faster, and faster, until she had been running through the clean night air, and nothing else had mattered, or would ever matter again—
“How long were you gone?”
The question was meaningless. Nancy shook her head. “Forever. Years … I was there for years. I didn’t want to come back. Ever.”
Returning to reality gets you labeled as “crazy” and gives you a one-way ticket to a mental asylum. Harsh indeed. The somewhat more fortunate children in this book get to go toEleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children instead.
The “home for wayward children” brings to mind the more famous book with that line, naturally I’m referring to the book by Ransom Riggs. In my opinion, there is no question that this is the superior book. The writing is exceptional, evocative, emotional, which is the reason I included that very long excerpt above, as a sample.
The characters in the book are well-developed from the many characters, each of whom have their own well-built tale, to the headmistress of the school, Eleanor West, who was a former visitor to another world herself. Expelled from said world for whatever reason, she spends her time with these children, helping them recover from the shock of reality, and in the meantime, trying to redeem herself in the hopes…
…that someday, it would be enough to pay her passage back to the place where she belonged.
And, you know, it may be a school for weird kids who went to other worlds, but it’s still not free of the usual cliques and difficulties of your typical high school.
The boys, except for Kade, were all sitting together, blowing bubbles in their milk and laughing. No; not them. One group had formed around a girl who was so dazzlingly beautiful that Nancy’s eyes refused to focus on her face; another had formed around a punch bowl filled with candy-pink liquid from which they all furtively sipped. Neither looked welcoming.
If the kids in this book had a psychological diagnosis, it would be PTSD; the school focuses on helping them get better. Not by helping them face the fact that they’re home and they’ll never return to Oz or whatever it is, but on helping them feel like they’re not alone, that life will go on after the fall from heaven. Because how else can you describe leaving Wonderland?
This book can be considered progressive in how it subtly addresses gender identity. I know that these days, it shouldn’t be a big deal, yet it still is. Characters who are not of the sexual and gender norm still aren’t featured in most books, so I would like to commend this book for making it seem like it’s not a big deal.
“Jill—you’ll meet her at dinner—wanted to fuck him until she found out he used to be a girl, and then she called him ‘she’ until Miss Ely said that we respect people’s personal identities here.”
“Yes,” said Nancy, recovering her composure. She began walking again. “I’m quite sure I don’t want to … have sexual relations with him, and I don’t think his gender expression is any of my business.” She was reasonably sure that was the right way to say things. She’d known the words once, before she left this world, and its problems, behind her. “That’s between him and whoever he does, or doesn’t, decide to get involved with.”
This is a dark book, but it’s not without dark humor. The teenagers in this book are, well, teenagers. And no matter what world they’ve visited, the snark and rebellion is still there.
Most fairy tales have happy endings, this book leaves it open.
You’re nobody’s rainbow.
You’re nobody’s princess.
You’re nobody’s doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.