Title: Every Heart a Doorway
Author: Seanan McGuire
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars
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.
Every Heart a Doorway ended up being not at all what I expected. I thought this was going to be a light, atmospheric fantasy, but instead ended up being altogether darker and heavier than I would have imagined.
Now obviously, I can’t blame my expectations on the book and I was able to set them aside after the initial jarring reaction. Still, I’m not sure I would have read this if I had known because I was not in the right frame of mind for this.
The story follows the children living in Eleanor West’s home for “troubled” teenagers, but this isn’t exactly true. This is what Eleanor allows the parents to believe, who would never understand the truth: that their children had visited another world and had come back very different.
“… You know, I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when I was a kid, and I never thought about what it would be like for Alice when she went back to where she’d started. I figured she’d just shrug and get over it. But I can’t do that. Every time I close my eyes, I’m back in my real bed, in my real room, and all of this is a dream.”
Eleanor West provides these children with a safe place for them to come to terms with their current situation, and the entire experience is treated like therapy. There are two kinds of homes for children who have visited other worlds: one for children who wish to forget, and one for children who wish to go back. Nancy, our main character, wishes to go back.
The book is beautifully written and extremely quotable, I will definitely give it that. I loved the whole idea of it and loved hearing about the worlds that each child had visited, for they were all wildly different. I wanted to hear more about this, but instead, the story shifted into a murder mystery about halfway through the book.
Suddenly, students started turning up dead under very mysterious circumstances, and it’s obvious that there is a murderer loose in the school. Under normal circumstances, I would think that the administrator would decide that the student’s lives are more important than anything else and have them sent away until the problem is dealt with. That is not how Eleanor West handles the situation.
To a certain extent, I understand why. Part of the reason that many of the children are staying in the home to begin with is because they come from toxic households that would not make for good healing environments for the children. However, I think in this case the choice is simple: either stay at the school and potentially die a horrible death, or go home for a short time while the murderer is tracked down. Or don’t even send the children home, just get them somewhere safe? But no, after every murder, Eleanor pleads with the children not to alert the outside world to the murder problem so the school doesn’t get shut down. This was very frustrating to me and I felt it selfish to value a “safe place” over the lives of the children.
Not only that, I felt the reader wasn’t given enough time to connect with any of the characters before people start getting murdered, so I couldn’t even bother to care if any of them died. I wasn’t invested in the story and overall, I wish this had taken a different direction.
Don’t get me wrong, I still adore the idea and I definitely plan to at least read the second book before deciding if this series is a lost cause. I hope that Down Among the Sticks and Bones is an improvement on this book and focuses more on the worlds that the children visit and their journeys to recovery.