BOOK REVIEW: Every Heart a Doorway

Title: Every Heart a Doorway
Author: Seanan McGuire
Published: 5 April 2016
RRP: £11.88

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.

C.S Lewis tended to gloss over just what happened to the children after they left Narnia. Maybe one or two of them were sent to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is no ordinary home. But then, none of its inhabitants are ordinary either. Each girl has tumbled into or been taken through a portal to a totally different world from our own, all essentially different versions of Fairyland, which seem to be unique to each girl’s personality and needs. All of them have somehow ended up back in the real world, their mysterious absences and strange stories terrifying their parents and guardians who almost all send them away to Miss Eleanor for correction, for fixing. There’s an interesting parallel here to young women in the 60s and 70s who were sent away to secure units for experimental therapy because they didn’t conform to the feminine ideal, were openly unhappy, or simply made others uncomfortable. They had to be put out of sight, they had to be mended. Fortunately, Miss Eleanor is a benevolent authority figure who understands exactly what they are all going through.

Each girl is waiting, desperately hoping her “door” will reappear and take her away, back to her Fairyland. New arrival and protagonist Nancy is no different in this respect. Not everyone gets rainbows and unicorns; Nancy’s portal took her to a monochrome Underworld where she was content to serve the Lord of the Dead by being silent and still. She struggles with the fast, loud, colourful clatter of the real world and her new roommate, Sumi. However before Nancy has a chance to try to settle in, something terrible happens which changes the Home from a safe space to a paranoid nightmare.

Every Heart a Doorway is a stunning story. Not only is it brilliantly original, but it works extraordinarily well as a touching coming of age tale. The portals could be seen as an analogy for puberty, a time of life which can often be dark, confusing, and frightening, and during which we can struggle to recognise and accept who we are. When we go through it, we go through it alone and it’s a different journey for everyone. At no other time of life do we crave acceptance as desperately as we do when we are growing up. This is especially true for Nancy, who is a clear introvert and asexual, and the character with whom she bonds most quickly, transgender Kade, cruelly thrown out of Fairyland when she was discovered and ostracised by her classmates as a “freak”. It’s easy to forget the special hell that is being a teen, and for some people, it never goes away.

Main characters who happen to identify as asexual or transgender shouldn’t be remarkable, but at the moment it still is; and not only does McGuire show how easy it is to be inclusive without being tokenistic, but Nancy and Kade send a fabulous message for young people who are coming to terms with their own gender or sexual identity. You are not alone. You can be the heroine or a hero of your own story.

Every Heart a Doorway is a timeless tale which reminds us that we have the power to decide whether to let in hate and fear or to show love and tolerance. We are the stars of our own stories and we choose our own destinies. Every Heart a Doorway is Girl, Interrupted meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Let it in and it will touch your heart and open your mind.

Rating: 5/5
Reviewer:Michaela Gray

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