For us, places we went were home. We didn’t care if they were good or evil or neutral or what. We cared about the fact that for the first time, we didn’t have to pretend to be something we weren’t. We just got to be. That made all the difference in the world.Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
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.
This was a series I didn’t know I needed until I finally read it. The series has the following premise: Children, mostly girls, fall into holes, open strange doorways in their basements, play hide and seek in a chest in the attic and find a stairway to another world. They spend time in these magical worlds, growing older and wiser, having adventures, overthrowing magical kingdoms, falling in love with fairies or spider princes, before they’re abruptly thrust back into their old lives for various reasons, either with a promise to return later or an expulsion for good.
Every Heart a Doorway tells the story of Nancy, who one day stepped through a door to another world and ended up at the Halls of the Dead, an underworld and the only place where she finally felt like she truly belonged – her true home. Then one day she unwittingly stepped through a door back to world where she was born, and now she is feeling lost because she can’t and doesn’t want to adapt to this world. So, since her parents can’t accept all the stories she has to tell as being real and true, they send her to a school that helps wayward children adjust to the “real world” – but it turns out the school is actually a safe place for children who experienced epic adventures and who, just like Nancy, hope to be able to return to the worlds they once called home, the places where they truly belong.
In this school she meets the most extraordinary of kids, each one of them telling their stories of the most possibly diverse and magical worlds anyone could ever think of, and every single one of them want – need – to go back. Then, someone starts killing the students and Nancy, alongside her friends, tries to figure out who is doing all this.
I wholeheartedly loved every aspect of this story.
The mystery is interesting and comes to a satisfactory conclusion, but the true strength of this novella is in its richly drawn characters.The characters are so real and unique. Each one of them is dealing with the loss of their reality in different ways, and yet they are all bounded by the longing they constantly feel. It doesn’t matter how different their worlds are, they all truly understand the feeling of loss and emptiness that comes as a result of being wrenched away from their one true home. The headmistress deals with her own separation in a relatable mixture of grief and hope. What truly surprised me was how McGuire managed to achieve such a depth of character in such a short novel. Everything felt so real and palpable that it felt like the characters were people who I’d already met at some point in my life.
Also, the conversations and exchanges between the characters were perfect. Seanan did not shy away from any subjects and treated them like real teenagers, the way they talk and act and all that awkwardness and embarrassment present in those interactions.
Another point I really loved was how Seanan dealt with diversity. Nancy is asexual and the characters in the book accept it with as much easy as anything else. Another character is transgender and that’s also just another fact that is so simply accepted. Others are ethnically diverse, various ages, various spins on gender, but what matters about them are these stories they come with, not the bodies they come in. And there’s never a speech about diversity: they just are, and the story goes on. This is a book about different people who have lived through adventures no one else has lived through and the fact that they have different skin colors, or hair colors, whether they are tall or short, slim or fat, none of that matters. They are all different and the same and that was so refreshing. The point here is the acceptance, the loss, the process of defining for yourself who you really are—and the magic they’ve all been touched by and so desperately want back.
The world-building was an absolute dream. To see all these different worlds and magic systems and how many there are. It was the stuff of dreams. And most importantly the fact that there’s a world out there for everyone, a place where not only everything about you is accepted but needed and valued. A place where you can be yourself without any fear or limitations. It made my heart so happy and full of hope. The real tragedy of this novella (secondary, of course, to the actual deaths described) is how few of these children ever make their way back to these places. This novella shows us what happens when Lucy Pevensie has to come home from Narnia, or when Alice comes back from Wonderland and what that might mean and feel like for them. It was a great point of view and situation to be presented.
I have read every single one of the books in this series and with every new novel I picked up a feeling of nostalgia would come over me. It felt like coming home, time and time again, and I couldn’t help being increasingly perplexed by the mystifying and authentic beauty of this story.
I honestly cannot recommend this series enough. Please, do yourselves a favor and read this.