What happens to all the children who stumble back into the real world having been Somewhere Else? Children always disappear under the right circumstances, and some of them return to a world that doesn’t understand them. At Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, they have the opportunity to learn how to move on, even if they can’t quite make it home to their magical lands.
As a well-documented fan of fantasy and portal fantasy, I have been recommended Seanan McGuire’s novella Every Heart a Doorway by many, many people. I finally got around to taking it out of the library. It is a short novella, 169 pages long, with a mystery and longing in its pages. Nancy has just been spat out from her world, and her parents (like all parents of Wayward children) didn’t understand. She gets sent to Ely West’s home for Wayward children, a boarding school for those who’d been spat out of magical worlds and were searching for their doors back. Once she arrives, things change at the home – there’s a darkness around every corner and they don’t know who to trust, and when tragedy strikes, its up to Nancy and her newfound friends to get to the bottom of it all.
It is an interesting concept, exploring the consequences of the worlds where the children end up. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, there is a structure to the worlds that the children end up in, Nonsense and Logic and Fairyland and Wicked and Virtue, all words that Nancy knows but doesn’t understand. It examines the consequences of the different type of worlds, with each child having a unique story and experience and impact. It is a story of dark worlds and rules and consequences and structure, the children come back changed. Jack and Jill are really quite creepy, keeping to themselves as their world was so completely different from the ones the others went too. It makes them good targets. It is an interesting concept, and it is well executed.
As far as representation goes – the main character identifies as asexual, and no-one tries telling her she is wrong or deluded. At the home her sexual identity is accepted, even if they’re a little wary of her World experience. And her roommate is very open about sex and masturbation, and is very body positive and supportive if a little blunt. One of the other children at the home is transgender and (mostly) well supported at the home if not at their parents.
I seem to have done a lot of explaining what happens, but I want to say why it is so good – it’s dark, it explored consequences, it doesn’t shy away from the grim reality of not fitting in. There are some incredible lines, and the characters all have secrets. All this in 169 pages. I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of portal fantasy. Every Heart A Doorway is the start of a series of novellas set around the children of Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, but unfortunately for me, the library only stocks the first (EHAD) of the Wayward Children series, and even the kindle for the series is £7 each. Luckily, the story itself is very self-contained – it is about Nancy, at the school for wayward children. The end.
“You’re nobody’s doorway but your own, and the only person who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”
Every Heart a Doorway
Unrelated, but this is the book that hit my Goodreads target of 52 books for 2018! Hooray!