Rated Reads

Every Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire

Rated: Moderate

Children have been known to slip through hidden doorways into other fantastical worlds. And some return to their everyday lives, for various reasons. Some do not long to get back to those worlds; others do. The latter consider those fantastical worlds their true homes and miss them terribly, always looking for that secret door to open again. Of course no one, including their parents, understands or believes their stories.

But someone actually does believe their stories — and understands their longing to be “home.” Eleanor West runs a boarding school that caters to these children and teens, that tries to help them figure out how to move forward in a life that may never have them seeing that door again.

Nancy is just one of these young people. She spent what seemed like years in the Halls of the Dead. She still wears just black and white, can stand unnaturally still and quiet, and prefers a minimum of light and color. She’s unsure what to think about this “home for wayward children” her parents have agreed to send her to (they’re hoping it will turn her back into the delightful and colorful girl she was before her disappearance), and completely incomprehensible are the other students’ stories and the terms they throw around about their experiences in lands that were “high Logic” or “high Nonsense” or “Wicked” or “Virtue” worlds. Her roommate, Sumi, lived in a Nonsense land but still ends up being not a bad companion.

Nancy doesn’t have much time to get acclimated, however, before a tragic event shakes up the whole house. Then she and some schoolmates bond as they help Miss Eleanor and try figure out the culprit.

This book is so original and clever, even though its premise may sound quite similar to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, in that children who have had unique experiences/gifts have a boarding school they can go to where they’ll be understood. But the approach and plot are quite different.

I wish I could find better words to convey the feeling of this book. The atmosphere is so thick I felt bodily taken to another dimension of sorts. It’s almost like Harry Potter in that the story, the details and the writing were so their very own, within just a few pages. I was dismayed that the book I was holding that was transporting me so uniquely was so thin.

Every Heart a Doorway appears to be the only “mainstream” novel by Seanan McGuire, who writes urban fantasy and horror. It mixes the types of fantasylands, both light and dark, we know from so many other (usually children’s) stories in a fairly familiar boarding-school environment. It features carefully titrated touches of horror. It is occasionally dark and a bit twisted, and the characters are teens who act strangely and have an entirely different worldview, including their sets of morals, because of where they’ve been. So the plot and the characters’ actions are odd and somewhat unpredictable, and the reader can’t help but just be curious about what they’re going to do.

There does seem to be a bit of an “agenda” moral/theme that comes on pretty strong, but wow, what a cool book.

Rated: Moderate, for three uses of strong language (which seems meant to shock amid the rest of the story, as it does), some other milder language, and a few brief crude sexual references (one reference to potential self-pleasuring is discussed for a few paragraphs). One character is transgender. There are some murders involving missing body parts, not with much detail, but the notion of each is gruesome. Several characters are from lands of the dead or horror-type places and are comfortable with dead or dismembered bodies, etc.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • Every Heart a Doorway
  • by Seanan McGuire
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: