Every Heart a Doorway
I loved this novel even more than I thought I would. It feels like a modern fairytale, complete with a dark and gritty subplot that lingers in the background. It is a weird and unusual story—the perfect amount of weird and unusual in my opinion. It involves the types of worlds that we all grew up reading and daydreaming about, but the book centers around the aftermath of being in those places. It deals with the harsh contrast between reality and fantasy, and how difficult it can be to immerge from that perfectly constructed fantasy back into a rather unaccepting reality.
The concept for this novel drew me in immediately, as it is by far the most unique take on fantasy and alternate worlds that I have ever heard of. Reading it felt like reading a fairytale retelling—even though it’s not—and it took me back to my childhood love of fantasy worlds in literature. The atmosphere and tone is a perfectly executed mix of eerie haunting, and whimsical whit and humor. In other words, this novel was totally written for me.
In this novel, we follow a young girl named Nancy during her first days at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. It is a special school that works to help reintroduce children who have visited fantastical worlds back into the real one. Nancy has a tough time adjusting to her new life, constantly believing she will once again find the door to her beloved world—the world where she felt that she finally fit in.
It is tough at first, but she realizes that the other students share many of her feelings, the only difference dividing them being their specific experiences and worlds. However, very soon after joining the school, a gruesome mystery begins to unfold—a darkness that has never fallen over this safe shelter. There is someone right under their noses with a malicious and twisted mind, carrying out horrifying acts, and Nancy and her friends are targeted as suspects by the other students. The group will have to work together to unravel this cryptic case before things get worse.
In a way, this novel feels sort of like a broken fairytale. It feels as if it is trying to subtly portray that transition in all of our lives as we grow into young adulthood. We always remain enchanted by inventive and mystical stories, but our world view is much less sugar coated. We can’t get quite as lost in fantasy, and at first, all we want to do is run back to that period of time where we could. Yet, however bleak it seems, we do come to terms with it, and find new life in those fantastical worlds.
I really liked the characters McGuire created for her story. Nancy had a solidly depicted personality right from the start, and she slowly evolved throughout the course of the novel, which is no simple task in a story this size. All of the personalities of the side characters were very well defined as well. They each reflected the world, the home, from which they had been pulled. It was a subtle detail that truly fleshed out the plot and made the story more tangible for the mind of the reader.
There was also some great diversity in this novel. For example, the main character, Nancy, is asexual, and one of her friends is transgender. The characters all come from different backgrounds and heritages, all joined together by a common experience. This also added further dimension and complexity into the characters and their parts in the plot as a whole.
McGuire’s writing style was very easy to read and flowed incredibly well throughout the entire narrative. Her words are deceptively simple. It was amazing how she managed to pack so much depth and feeling into such a small amount of pages. She delves into some important themes, like human behavior and how society deals with people they label as outsiders.
When writing a story that has a shorter than average number of pages, it is incredibly easy for characters to come across as bland and one-dimensional, and for the narrative itself to feel quite rushed and overloaded. At no point was this the case in McGuire’s story, which is a testament to her great writing talent. The novel is a short and fast-paced read that leaves you partially satisfied, but also extremely eager to spend more time in the world that she has created.
McGuire has produced a quirky, unique, and engrossing little story that is surprisingly captivating. It will come as no surprise that I highly recommend giving this novel a try. I don’t see how I will be able to stand the wait for the sequel, even though its release date is only a few months away.
Update 3/10/16: this arrived last week. I'm in the middle of Atlas Shrugged. I figured I'd wait til after I slew the titan to read this book. I just now realized it's an ARC, and I miss much of the fun if I don't read it this weekend. I have a change of plans!
Update 3/12/16: book=done. This was a brilliant idea and executed adequately. I enjoyed it very much. As pacing goes, after 60 pages of 170 I really wasn't sure where it was going, so it kind of started slow. It feels self contained with no need for sequels but I'd love to see how the kids who never find their return doors cope in their adult lives and how they use their individual talents. I want more books that address the obvious questions that we never seem to ask (what does one do with oneself when one returns to the world of their birth from a fantasy world?). I'm looking for more from this author, too. ;)
(yes this is book two...)
Okay, yes, I did read the second book first. Don't judge me, this is a series where I can get away with it. And honestly I'm kinda glad I read them this way.
I fell in love with this book's sequel and this was mildly less spectacular. Don't get me wrong, there are tonnes of good things! But the fantastical atmosphere and gorgeous, quirky characters felt dimmed in comparison.
“We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.”
While the plot was interesting and unique, as appears to be McGuire's forte, I felt it was lacking and the characters and the atmosphere were by far the stars of this book.
But in saying that, I found it frustrating that MC, Nancy, was the character with the least quirk and interest. Perhaps, because it was her personality as seen by her respected door and world, was dull and dark and quiet and still. But even then, I would have expected more grit and gristle than I was presented with.
All the other characters, however, were adorable and fascinating and I just want more of them!
So quick sum up of all the fantastic diversity before we dive deeper into the characters:
-Nancy is asexual
-Kade is trans and a MOC
-Sumi is of Asian descent
-Jack is bisexual and displays OCD tendencies (never labeled)
“I don’t do that. With anyone.” “You’re celibate?” “No. Celibacy is a choice. I’m asexual. I don’t get those feelings.”
Kade is a gorgeous cinnamon roll and I absolutely demand that a book is written focusing on solely him. He is kind and understanding and soft spoken and intelligent and just so so knowledgable. I just freaking adore him okay?!
Sumi is just as amazing. Her quirks just explode off the page and you can't help but wonder about her world and her story. And you will find out because book 3, Beneath the Sugar Skyhref> is about exactly this!
Jack is the intelligent, graceful, and worldly twin of Jill. These are characters I have already met because they are the MCs of Down Among the Sticks and Bones. The contrast between the twins is phenomenal and is even more interesting and complex when you hear about how their parents stereotyped the two girls. Out of all the characters, these two felt the most other-worldly and mature, something to be expected when they have already lived a lifetime.
While I didn't think this book was as grand as the sequel, in a few short pages you are given a gorgeous insight into some unique world-building and some truly wonderful characters.
“We don't teach you how to dwell. We also don't teach you how to forget. We teach you how to move on.”
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