BOOK REVIEW: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
“We went down the mysterious stairs that couldn’t possibly be there, of course. Who wouldn’t go down an impossible staircase in the bottom of a trunk? We were twelve. We were curious, and angry with our parents, and angry with each other.”
We all know about portal magic. We’ve grown up reading books or watching movies about gateways to other worlds. Alice Liddell, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, Terisa Morgan, Ofelia, and the four Pevensie children found doorways into other worlds. Doorways to Wonderland, and Cittàgazze, and Mordant, and Pan’s Labyrinth, and Narnia.
What if these journeys had all really happened? Well, okay, maybe not Narnia:
“What about, like, Narnia?” asked Christopher. “Those kids went through all sorts of different doors, and they always wound up back with the big talking lion.”
“That’s because Narnia was a Christian allegory pretending to be a fantasy series, you asshole,” said one of the other boys. “C. S. Lewis never went through any doors. He didn’t know how it worked. He wanted to tell a story, and he’d probably heard about kids like us, and he made shit up. That’s what all those author’s did. They made shit up, and people made them famous. We tell the truth, and our parents throw us into this glorified loony bin.”
But what if the rest were real, and countless others besides? How would those kids who came back deal with the sudden reality shock? More importantly, how would their parents deal when their kids, newly back from being “kidnapped”, refused to let the fantasy die?
This is where Eleanor West, with her home for wayward children comes in.
To the parents, she said, “This is a delusion, and some time away will help to cure it.”
To the aunts and uncles, she said, “This is not your fault, and I can be the solution.”
To the grandparents, she said, “Let me help. Please, let me help you.”
Eleanor knows it’s not a delusion, has, in fact, found her own door into another world and travelled through it countless times. Now she helps the children who find themselves stuck in this world, unable to return to the places that made so much more sense for them.
“Vampires?” said Nancy blankly, “Those aren’t real.”
“None of this is real, my dear. Not this house, not this conversation, not those shoes you’re wearing and not either one of us. ‘Real’ is a four-letter word, and I’ll thank you to use it as little as possible while you live under my roof.”
New kid Nancy is still trying to get a grip on the different kinds of worlds and what exactly their classifications mean – Logic or Nonsense, Wicked or Virtuous – when someone starts killing off the students, and stealing something important from each one.
The dead were capable of sight, as Nancy would have been quick to point out had she been asked, but this body saw nothing, for it had no eyes, only black and blood-rimmed holes where eyes had once been.
Nancy and her new friends must find out what’s going on, quickly, or be sent back to the parents who don’t understand what they went through, what they’re still going through.
She knew, in an academic way, that she should hurry after them – that she shouldn’t stand out here alone, where anything could happen to her. But that seemed hasty, and dangerous. Stillness was safer. Stillness had saved her before, and it would save her now.
McGuire offers up a story that is part fable, part exploration of stories past, and part bolster for those of us who don’t feel entirely as though we’re in the right place in this world of ours.
This story, though only a novella, gives us the unique, witty, and kooky writing that fans have come to expect from Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant), and is a must have for the shelves of any McGuire/Grant fans, as well as fans of the aforementioned portal fantasy category.
Every Heart a Doorway is a mash-up of murder mystery, coming of age, and fantasy, tied together into a quick read that you will be able to devour in a sitting, and which just might give you quite a few feels, good and bad, looking back on being a teenager who didn’t fit in, wishing you could find a door to elsewhere.
But is it better to have found the door and then lost it, or to never have gone through it at all? Is it better to know what you’re missing and continue to be without, or to never know for sure but spend your whole life dreaming?
McGuire doesn’t give you an answer to this one way or the other, but rather presents you with a range of characters who will leave you with only one answer. Yes. Yes to both. Yes to neither.
You might just find yourself wondering about what’s waiting on the other side of the door.
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.
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