Series: Every Heart a Doorway #1
Published by Tor.com on April 5 2016
What an odd and magical story this was! I’ve only read one other Seanan McGuire story, but from what I understand, she seems to be one of those authors who reinvents herself with each story she writes. Every Heart a Doorway can be read on several levels, and only writers with great skill are able to pull that off successfully, in my opinion. McGuire does so brilliantly, giving us a magical yet menacing tale of a group of teens who have been sent to a special school in order to deal with a very unusual loss, a tale that quickly becomes a murder mystery. But dig deeper and this story is about growing up and leaving childhood behind. For such a short novella, McGuire gives her readers everything they could want: a fascinating premise for a story, a tantalizing mystery, and even hard-hitting emotional content.
The story revolves around Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a school where children and teens who have found a secret doorway to another world and then been cast out of that world can come to be rehabilitated. Each student has spent time—often years—in one of many worlds, and all of them are trying to find the doorway that will lead them back. In the meantime, they live with Eleanor and attend daily counseling sessions where they are told they many never find their doorway again, and so they must face the facts and try to become “normal.”
Nancy is newly arrived at the home, having recently left the Halls of the Dead (against her will) where she spent time with the Lord of the Dead and drank pomegranate juice and learned how to be as still as a statue. Now Nancy wants nothing more than to go back, but first she must deal with the other kids at the school and adapt to the harsh light and bright colors, both of which were absent in the Halls of the Dead. She meets her roommate Sumi, a colorful girl who came from a world full of rainbows, and she soon bonds with a mysterious boy named Kade who used to be a girl.
But the dreary sameness of the school is interrupted when one of the students is found brutally murdered, and it isn’t long after that the murderer strikes again. Soon the students realize that no one is safe, and it becomes a race for their lives to catch the killer before someone else is sacrificed.
One reason I loved this story so much is that it reminded me of my own childhood. Yep, I was one of those weird kids who believed in fairies and witches and vampires, and I was absolutely certain that magic was real. I’m quite sure I spent a great deal of time trying to find my own doorway to another world! There was such a wonderful feeling of nostalgia to Every Heart a Doorway, and I imagine that even if you weren’t the sort of child who believed in fairies, this story will evoke long forgotten emotions. But even though I loved revisiting my own memories of childhood, what I wasn’t prepared for was how sad this story was. The kids in this story are devastated that they’ve left their worlds, and they want nothing more than to find their personal doorway that will lead them back to that place where they belonged. It was heartbreaking and lovely, and I don’t know whether to curse McGuire or applaud her for making me feel so much.
So is this just a story of some messed up teens who have had some strange adventures, and now they are having trouble assimilating back into the real world? Or is it more, an allegory for growing up and saying goodbye to childhood? I like to think that each reader will get something different from it. I do know that the ending couldn’t have been more perfect, and knowing that there are two more novellas to follow, I’m extremely curious to see where McGuire will take us next.
This review originally appeared on Books, Bones & Buffy.