Series: Wayward Children #1
Published by Tor on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBTQ+
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
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.
For us, places we went were home. We didn’t care if they were good or evil or neutral or what. We cared about the fact that for the first time, we didn’t have to pretend to be something we weren’t. We just got to be. That made all the difference in the world.
My feelings for this book weren’t as much mixed as there was just a lack thereof. It may have been the length (this novella is only 173 pages) or the detached writing style, but I found myself not having an opinion on what happened in the story or being interested in the fate of anyone in it. With all the glowing reviews and a premise that blew me out of the water I was fully expecting this book to be amazing and…it just kind of wasn’t. So here is the break-down.
What I liked:
✓ The concept
The concept of Every Heart A Doorway is one of the best I’ve ever heard of. We’ve got kids walking through strange, creepy doors that transport them to different worlds; worlds that in one way or another, fit that specific child perfectly. But the book isn’t about the children having crazy adventures in their wonderlands, it’s about what happens when they come back and don’t know how to cope with what we call “the real world”. They feel lost, morally conflicted (having lived years with a different moral code), and most of all, they just want to go back. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is where desperate parents send their “unstable” kids. What these parents don’t know, is that Eleanor West herself has been to one of these worlds and she is trying to help the children by providing a place where someone believes them. With a concept like that, what could possibly go wrong?
✓ The themes
The novella tackles some really great topics, including gender issues, mental health, the way our surroundings impacts our morals and perception of right and wrong, and humans’ inner most needs for hope and acceptance. There are some beautiful quotes in the book relating to these issues and it’s worth reading just for those.
“Because ‘boys will be boys’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Lundy. “They’re too loud, on the whole, to be easily misplaced or overlooked; when they disappear from the home, parents send search parties to dredge them out of swamps and drag them away from frog ponds. It’s not innate. It’s learned. But it protects them from the doors, keeps them safe at home. Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.”
Because hope is a knife that can cut through the foundations of the world. Hope hurts. That’s what you need to learn, and fast, if you don’t want it to cut you open from the inside out.
Truly beautiful and poetic but also a harsh truth.
✓ Writing and atmosphere
In this book, the two go hand in hand. Seanan McGuire did a great job of establishing an eerie, slightly creepy atmosphere that was a strange mix between classic fairy tales and the bizarreness of Alice’s Wonderland. The prose itself, though detached, is beautifully poetic.
✓ The diversity
You can’t really talk about this book without mentioning the amount of representation present. There is an asexual character and a transgender character, as well as some other more ambiguous relationships. It makes me so happy to see authors really understanding how important it is for our fiction to be diverse.
But as I mentioned earlier, this book was not all rainbows and unicorns for me. I did have quite a few issues with it.
What I didn’t like:
✖︎ Plot and worldbuilding
Classic case of great concept with mediocre execution. For one thing, this book was too short for the story being told. We never got into the meat of it and the world-building was lacking. There was some vague mention of High Logic and High Nonsense plus some other concepts but nothing was ever really explained. I’m sure this won’t bother all readers, but it was dissatisfying to me. The plot itself was a mess. It was supposed to have elements of a psychological thriller and mystery but the book completely failed in that department. It was obvious from the start who the murderer was and because we didn’t have time to form an attachment to any of the characters, them being killed really didn’t have any emotional impact on me. Plus, the ending was a bit ridiculous and bordered on being a deus ex machina.
I think that if the author would have just focused on the world and the inner turmoil of the children, this book could have been great. I loved the therapy sessions for example. But by introducing the mystery/thriller aspect, it became too much and really bogged down the story.
✖︎ The characters
It wasn’t so much that I didn’t like the characters as that I just didn’t feel anything for them. I wasn’t attached. I didn’t care what happened to them. The character dynamics were uninteresting and the dialogue flat, resulting in friendships that made me feel nothing.
✖︎ And what about the parents?
Throughout the whole book I kept thinking “And what about the parents? What happens to them?” This part of the book was extremely frustrating to me. Some of the children at the home have awful parents, I’m not talking about those. But many have good parents, parents who care, who only want the best for their children. And nobody thinks of them. None of the children consider what it does to the family to see them suffer, to have to send them away, what it would mean for them if they disappeared into another world forever. I just couldn’t get over the selfishness of this. I kept waiting for that redeeming quote or passage that would show that the parents aren’t bad people and shouldn’t be punished but it never came.
Overall, I can recommend Every Heart A Doorway as a short and entertaining book that you will be able to read in one or two sittings. It discusses some important themes, is well-written and does a fantastic job in the representation department. Just don’t expect to be blown away by the plot or worldbuilding.