Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. ★★★★★
Every Heart a Doorway is an elegant novella about what happens to children who go to magical worlds but then wind up back in this world, longing for the magical home they’ve lost. A woman named Eleanor West runs a school for the stranded teenagers, where at least they can be different together.
For all it’s brevity, Every Heart a Doorway is a story that really resonated with me. It has that sense of beautiful darkness that’s often best found in fairy tales and that reminds me of Catherynne Valente’s In the Night Garden. More than that, it’s a story about feeling out of place and adrift, looking for a place where you feel is home. While it didn’t have a YA “feel” to it, it could easily be suitable due to the themes and teenage main characters.
“Her parents loved her, there was no question of that, but their love was the sort that filled her suitcase with colors 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.”
The world of Eleanor West’s boarding school is mainly seen through the eyes of Nancy, a seventeen year old girl recently arrived back from a Grecian style underworld. Now more than anything else she misses the stillness and silence of the world she lost. Something particularly important to me is that Nancy’s also asexual. It’s not implied, it’s actually stated, as in she says the words, “I’m asexual.” It’s so, so rare for me to find a book any asexual characters at all, yet alone one who’s the protagonist. In my opinion, the treatment of Nancy’s asexuality was nuanced and understanding. It even mentioned that asexual and aromantic aren’t the same thing!
Even outside of Nancy, I really cared about the characters, which was especially impressive given the short span of pages. Jack was a particular favorite of mine. I don’t think the murder mystery plot line was really what the book was about, but it did make me nervous that one of the characters I liked would be next to go.
Beautifully written, Every Heart a Doorway is a evocative story with the aesthetic of a fairy tale. I only wish that it wasn’t over so soon.