There are many books out there about kids who discover magical worlds and the wonderful adventures they have there. But what happens afterward, when they come back through the rabbit hole and have to return to their normal lives? In Every Heart a Doorway, these children go to a special boarding school where they can share their experiences with those who will understand, readjust to the normal world, and come to terms with the fact that they may not ever return to the land they truly consider home. This novella is the first book in a new series called Wayward Children by Seanan McGuire. I had no idea what to expect going into this book, but it hit almost every sweet spot for me.
Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Nancy accidentally stumbled through an entrance to a magical world—but instead of Wonderland, she got the land of the dead. Though she was content there and ready to stay forever, the Lord of the Dead sent her home, telling her she needed to be sure. But when Nancy is thrust back into her old life, her parents don’t know what to do with their newly still and solemn child who pines for an imaginary world. In desperation, they send her to Eleanor’s boarding school, which claims to be a rehabilitation center for delusional children but is really a safe haven for kids with experiences just like Nancy’s. Though even at this school, Nancy is a bit of an outcast; while she was lingering in the land of ghosts, other kids went to worlds of candy, rainbows, and unicorns. A handful are like her, though: Jack and Jill are twin sisters who recently returned from a world of vampires and mad scientists, and Christopher made friends among the skeletons in a land reminiscent of Dias de los Muertos. Then there’s Kade, a transgender boy rejected by fairies and mortals alike for not being the little girl both societies wanted him to be. As if being an outcast among the weird kids isn’t bad enough, Nancy’s arrival at the school is marred by a terrible tragedy: her roommate is found murdered, and Nancy is one of the prime suspects.
Every Heart a Doorway was a whole lot darker than I expected it to be—which for me was definitely a good thing! When I read the premise of a book about yet another school for weird magical teens, I was picturing something like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But Every Heart a Doorway was more akin to a murder mystery than straight-up adventure fantasy. I also truly loved the discussions of what each kid found beautiful about their seemingly dreary and dreadful worlds.
One of the best parts of Every Heart a Doorway, though, was its diverse cast of characters and inclusion of several groups that have been seriously underrepresented in literature. I first heard about this book from friends who were surprised and delighted to encounter a character who identifies as asexual in a YA fantasy novel. Nancy does not feel sexual attraction to people of any gender, and while that’s not a major plot point in the book, it is an important part of who she is and plays into some of her relationships and feelings of ostracism. However, just because she’s asexual doesn’t mean she can’t feel romantic attraction. The potential love interest in the story is a trans character named Kade. Though one of the friendliest students in the school, he’s set apart from the other kids as the only one who isn’t trying to find his way back to the world he left, since they couldn’t accept who he is. Instead, Kade finds welcoming and acceptance at the school, which he plans to make his permanent home. It was such a refreshing experience to read a book that shows gender and sexual diversity as a matter of course rather than only when such things are the main focus of the story.
Keep an eye out for my review of the sequel Down Among the Sticks and Bones in the near future! If you enjoyed this review of Every Heart a Doorway, you can buy yourself a copy from an independent bookstore and support The Gothic Library in the process by clicking the affiliate link below: