Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Edition: Hardcover (169 pages)
Published on: April 5, 2016 (Tor.com)
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Novella
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
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.
Excerpt from Page 82:
“We were twelve when we went into that trunk. We were seventeen when we came out. Maybe we would have been able to adapt to this stupid, colorful, narrow-minded world if we’d woken from a shared dream and been thrown straight into middle school. Instead, we staggered down the stairs and found our parents having dinner with our four-year-old brother, who’d been told for his entire life that we were dead. Not missing. That would have been messy. God forbid that we should ever make a mess.”
I heard about this novella from Regan over at PeruseProject. She put it on her list of “Worst Books of 2016.” However, I was enchanted by the premise and the cover, and her reasons for disliking it didn’t seem disheartening. Thanks Regan for turning me on to this one!
I call this book a novella because it’s about 150 pages. It’s somewhere between a short story and a novel. It tells a complete story, but it’s much more fast-paced than your regular novel. Let’s start with what I loved about this read.
This story is about teenagers who have been to other worlds (think Wonderland) and have come back to the “real” world. Their parents don’t believe them. They think they were kidnapped or they ran away and now they have made up some elaborate story that they won’t stray from. So they are sent to a school for other such children that have been to these worlds. The most interesting thing about this premise is that there are many different types of other worlds, and no two teens have been to the same place. Some are whimsical, some are scary. I loved how much variation there was, and how much imagination the author put in to creating diverse worlds for every character.
Another great thing about this book is the ease and creativity with which certain groups were represented. One of our main characters is asexual; her inability to fit in in her high school and in her life in general leads her to the door to the Underworld, where she finally is able to fit in. Her sexuality is an important part of her character, but it is not the point of the story, which is incredibly refreshing. Another character is a transgender boy; fairies steal him into their world because they believe he is a little girl, and when they find out he is actually a boy, they kick him out and tell him he can never return. The character is trans, but he is so much more than that. It is just a part of the story like everything else. It feels so natural and like organic representation. Sometimes, diversity can seem forced in novels, like the author just really wanted to throw in certain characters. I loved how in this story, the diversity was weaved into the narrative so creatively.
The story was beautiful and heartbreaking in many ways. The writing style and tone made you ache for the worlds these characters had either been kicked out of or reluctantly left. They were all hoping that someday they would get to go back through the door, or the looking glass. I loved feeling that hope.
Now, let’s move on to what wasn’t so strong in this book. First, I didn’t love the perspective the story was told in. It was told in the third person, but it was limited to one character at a time. I felt like it switched around between characters in sort of a jumpy fashion. I would have really enjoyed if each character had their own chapter, or if the whole story had been told in third person omniscient. I found myself confused about which character we were supposed to be focused on.
I also was not totally on board with the direction the story took at about the halfway point. This book becomes a mystery story when students in the school start being murdered. I didn’t exactly understand the point of making this into a mystery story. I was much more interested in the worlds the different students had been a part of. However, I think maybe if the novella were extended into a full novel, this problem could be eradicated. I don’t necessarily think the murder-mystery aspect was bad, but I do think that, since the story didn’t have much more than 60 pages of set up, it seemed like it came out of left field.
This brings me to my biggest issue with the story. I don’t think it should be a novella. When thinking about novellas such as Of Mice and Men, the whole story is contained in its short form. The reader isn’t left wanting more. This story left me wanting MUCH more. I don’t want a sequel; I just want the whole thing to be longer. The beginning needs more fleshing out. It needs more background, more character development, and the murders should go on for longer. I was left wanting every scene to be longer.
I felt like I was reading an abridged version of a fantasy novel.
Overall, there were amazing components here. I loved so many things about the writing, the characters, and the story, but I just needed it to be about three times as long. I have read a statement by Tor.com announcing that there will actually be two more books in this series, and that the next installment will be a prequel. I think this second book might have to potential to fill in some of the blanks that bothered me with this novella. I am definitely going to be on the look out for that.
I think this is a great book to read for its diversity components and for #ReadDiverse2017. Thanks for reading!