100-Character Breakdown: A poignant portal fantasy that explores differences with elegant prose and carefully drawn characters.
Publisher: Tor (April 2016)
Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is the kind of novella a reader wishes was a novel — not a word is wasted, but the reader will certainly yearn to spent more time in this well-built world. This portal fantasy is set at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. The children’s parents think the home will help them forget about their delusions and fix their broken minds. But the home is meant to do no such thing. Eleanor is helping children who have had an experience like her own. All of the children one day found a door to another world, magical lands where they felt they belonged, but all of them, one way or another, ended up back home. Some of these worlds are based in Nonsense, some in Logic, some hard to define. Nancy, who has only recently returned from the Halls of the Dead, is the newest student at the home. Shortly after her arrival, tragedy hits. Nancy and her new friends are determined to find the source.
This novella is altogether whimsical, original, and full of heart. Though it uses some common tropes, it isn’t afraid to hint at them; for example, McGuire weaves in a reference to The Chronicles of Narnia. The mixture of dark humor and horror makes this portal fantasy exciting and enhances its originality. And while the characters’ hunt for the culprit behind the tragedy isn’t quite captivating — and the reveal isn’t too surprising — this does nothing to diminish the well-crafted story. The cast of characters is diverse and full of depth. McGuire carefully constructs the worlds each of the teens has experienced, and these worlds are intrinsic parts of their characters. The book beautifully represents what it’s like to be different and out of place, whether it is exploring Nancy’s asexuality, another student’s gender dysphoria, or simply how the teens’ experiences have forged the specifics of their personalities. The coupling of McGuire’s elegant prose and her carefully drawn characters results in a poignant and satisfying novella.