Every Heart a Doorway
by Seanan McGuire
Publication Date: April 15, 2016
Length: 197 pages
Obtained Via: Library/bought
#1 in Every Heart a Doorway
View at the Traffic light:
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.
Now I know that if you open the right door at the right time, you might finally find a place where you belong.
I had to read this book twice before I could ever begin to form a review. There are many, many books in the world that I have loved. These are books that I will shout from the rooftops that everyone should read, and will eagerly push into everyone’s hands. But every few years are so, I read a book that makes me feel some small part of me, my soul, is fundamentally recognized in the story. I still want to shout from the rooftops how amazing the book is, but often I can’t find the words. The last time that happened was in 2014 with I’ll Give You the Sun. And now, in 2016, it’s happened again with Every Heart a Doorway. This is one of the most beautiful, haunting books I’ve ever read.
Every Heart a Doorway follows main character Nancy, who as a child found a portal to the door of the dead. Her parents are worried about her, so they send her to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. They think it’s a school to help her get over her delusions, but really the place is filled with children who have found doorways to all sorts of magical lands and are having trouble being back in the real world that no longer feels like home. The real plot of the book is a murder mystery that happens at the school, but it feels secondary to everything else (which is not at all a bad thing), because really, Every Heart a Doorway is a story about longing for something more.
Growing up, I always wanted to have a magical adventure that would carry me away to Narnia or Hogwarts. I think that’s a pretty common longing for kids who grow up reading fantasy books. I know Every Heart a Doorway was not written for me. . . but it feels like it is. I may not have had an actual adventure like Nancy or any of the supporting characters had, but I understand their longing for something more than the ordinary world acutely. I think many people do.
Every Heart a Doorway is a weird little book. There’s some truly creepy characters. There is murder and mayhem. There’s a few violent scenes, but at the heart the story is very sweet. For the first time, Nancy finds herself in a place where people understand her, at least a little bit. All the children at Eleanor’s school want desperately to find their doors again. It doesn’t take a literal journey to another land to understand why they want to, and the book manages to pack a lot in under 200 pages.
The story of Every Heart a Doorway is also strengthened by its diversity and feminist undertones. Nancy is asexual, and it’s stated plainly on the page. At a few times throughout the novel, she discusses this with one of the characters, and it’s woven seamlessly into the story and yet means so much. There’s also a trans side character whose portrayal regarding his experience in the fantasy world is done wonderfully. There are bits in the book about how we tend to treat young boys and girls differently, and it’s fascinating to see the way McGuire plays that out in relation to who goes to fantasy worlds and who comes back and why.
Every Heart a Doorway is a short book. It’s an easy book to breeze through. . . but it’s a much harder book to forget.
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.
This is a new favorite book, and it’s definitely the best book I’ve read so far this year. It will probably top all my end-of-the-year lists. I know I will read this book over & over & over again because there’s something in it that makes me feel known in a way that a few, rare books do. 5/5 stars.