Reviews, Young Adult

Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Pictured: the book cover displayed on a smartphone screen, in front of a black, textured background.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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.

**There are minor spoilers in the “Content Warnings” and “Review” portions of this post**

Book one of the “Wayward Children” series.
Published: April 2016
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Horror
Representation: People of Colour (POC); Asexual (LGBT+); Trans (LGBT+).
Content Warning: Death, murder, gore, mutilation, dismemberment, trauma, dissolving a body (using acid), stabbing, trans-antagonism, passive aphobia, allusion to an eating disorder


Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

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. 

— taken from Goodreads


What an interesting novella! As the summary indicates, the premise of the book involves a school that children are unceremoniously dropped into by their parents who don’t know what to do with them. Why? Because these kids had surreptitiously slipped into other worlds not known to ours, and when they came back (often unwillingly), they were deemed eccentric, insane, or too difficult to handle, and were promptly deposited at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. What the parents don’t know is that Eleanor West was one of these children, and her purpose in running this school is to help these children cope (and potentially move on), not “fix” or “reform” them. 

This book was fun, thrilling, and strange. Seanan McGuire weaves a complex fairy-tale/fantasy element together with the characters’ unique backstories. The setting of this novella is made up of multiple fanatical worlds that are inextricably linked to ours, that range between cutesy and horrific, but all of which are disturbing and morally corrupt in their own ways. Many of the characters are so quirky and unlikeable, which adds to the charm of the story.  Needless to say, the setting of this novella attributes to how weird and creepy it ends up being. 

If you are anything like us, you couldn’t help but wonder about the ending of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and question the legitimacy of it. Every Heart a Doorway takes a really interesting approach to the story of a child (or group of children) tumbling into an unknown magical world, finding their way back out, and everything being wonderful and dandy after the fact. The reality in this novel is that things are most certainly not okay for these kids. They have been undeniably changed by their experiences: upon returning home, there are real implications that they have to live with. Of course you wouldn’t be okay if you found yourself in a world that defies all of your world’s rules and expectations. 

For the kids at Eleanor West’s school, the worlds they escaped to were everything they had ever wanted. We hear from some of the students that they hadn’t felt like they fit in, or were accepted in the real world, and they didn’t truly feel at home until they found passage to their secret world. They loved it there, and ended up back “home” for reasons beyond their control. Once back in the real world, it becomes clear that these kids were permanently changed by their travels. The rules and dynamics of the worlds they went to altered their perceptions of right and wrong, and made it so they could no longer cope with living in the real world. Many of them are dedicating their time into going back, despite the horrors of what they experienced in their respective worlds. It isn’t lost on us that the aftermath of their unconventional travels almost mirrors experiencing trauma. We can’t help but wonder if, in some ways, the book is meant to be a metaphor for coping with trauma. 

Her parents loved her, there was no question of that, but their love was the sort that filled her suitcase with colors [sic] and kept trying to set her up on dates with local boys. Their love wanted to fix her, and refused to see that she wasn’t broken.

– Nancy; “Every Heart a Doorway,” Seanan McGuire

Those worlds, though. Most of them were extremely bizarre and truly disturbing. They are not at all as beautiful and magical as the different worlds typically seen in young adult books. There are many different worlds, too, and the individuals in this book all went to worlds that were a perfect fit for them. We learn later that this isn’t the case for everybody, but that gets brushed aside (although hopefully dealt with in a future book). And while the set up and alignment of these worlds are really interesting, they were also really intricate, and it was sometimes difficult to follow. This is one of the reasons that we don’t give this book a full 5-out-of-5 stars. It takes a lot to understand the way the worlds work. It gets to be a little confusing, and the fact that this book is a novella and not a full story may attribute to that. Perhaps if we as the reader had more time to understand the mechanics, it would have been more palatable.

Overall, this book was really well written and tightly plotted. There was a thriller/mystery element that was not what had Abarna expected (because she doesn’t normally read summaries for a book right before she reads them). It was well paced and the climax/solution of the mystery tied neatly into some of the concepts mentioned throughout the book. It was also unexpectedly violent, as we’re sure the content warning alluded to. One of Abarna’s favourite characters was the first to be killed off, sadly enough. There’s also a lot of diversity in the book, by way of people of colour, as well as a trans character and an asexual character. The really notable thing about the asexual character, is the distinction that is made between asexual and aromantic; oftentimes, they are seen as mutually exclusive, but this is not the case, and we love how the book addresses that. Trans and asexual characters are infrequently represented in YA books; normally LGBT+ YA books feature lesbian, gay, and/or bisexual characters. So in that sense, it’s refreshing to see representation outside of the LGB. We’re looking forward to diving deeper into the universe featured in Every Heart a Doorway!

Remember, only by learning about the journeys of others can we truly understand our own.

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