Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Doors sometimes open from the mundane world into more fantastical, miraculous realms, and sometimes children find their way through these doors to sojourn a while among the fae, with the King of the Dead, with scientists creating life from dead tissue and electricity, with forms and dreams stranger still. Many of those who return from such a journey understandably feel out of place in the mundane world. Rent from worlds full of magic, where they were often favorites of those worlds’ rulers, they are expected to get on with the normal business of homework, piano practice, and pestering siblings. Their parents or guardians are generally at a loss; they do not know what to with these sometimes beloved children who return from being missing, but still seem gone in crucial ways.

Some fortunate fraction find their way to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Chilren. Upon meeting a child’s family, West

explained, so earnestly, so sincerely, that her school would help to cure the things that had gone wrong in the minds of all those little lost lambs. She could take the broken children and make them whole again. …
She had been working on this routine for a long time, and she knew how to play upon the fears and desires of adults. They wanted what was best for their charges, as did she. It was simply that
they had very different ideas of what “best” meant.
To the parents, she said, “This is a delusion, and some time away may help to cure it.”
To the aunts and uncles, she said, “This is not your fault, and I can be the solution.”
To the grandparents, she said, “Let me help. Please, let me help you.”
Not every family agreed on boarding school as the best solution. About one out of every three potential students slipped through her fingers, and she mourned for them, those whose lives would be so much harder than they needed to be, when they could have been saved. But she rejoiced for those who were given to her care. (pp. 7–8)

Every Heart a Doorway begins with the matriculation of a new student, Nancy, who at first cannot believe that Eleanor is speaking so calmly about such important matters. She meets her roommate, Sumi, who has been to a nonsense world. Sumi is hardly the soul of tact, saying that Nancy is too boring a name for someone at the school, and then setting off the first conflict by calling her stupid for believing that she will go back to the world she visited. Just as quickly, mercurial Sumi takes Nancy under her wing and starts to introduce her to other students at the boarding school: Kade, “the most beautiful boy Nancy had ever seen” (p. 26), but then gets bored after one exchange and flops out of a window. Eleanor announces Nancy to the rest of the student body at dinner. She spends her first meal with Jack (“short for Jacqueline”) and Jill (“short for Jillian because our parents should never have been allowed to name their own children” p. 36). More interesting characters appear at group therapy, including the therapist who made a bad bargain with some fae and is now ageing in reverse.

It’s a perfectly cromulent story, engaging, with the right mix of strangeness and familiarity to pull a reader along. I remember zipping right through it back in mid-June. The introductions seem a bit long for a work that only reaches 150 small pages, but that makes more sense now that I see Every Heart a Doorway is first in a set of three. The pace picks up considerably when the first student is killed. From then on, Nancy’s task of learning how to live in the world (or how to return to the one she visited! — so preferable from her point of view, so terribly unlikely) is supplanted by having to make sure she lives at all, and trying to find out what is happening in her unusual school.

On the whole, though, I’m not really who this story is aimed at. I’m closer to the mystified parents, worried to death about a child who was missing, relieved beyond words at the return, puzzled and concerned at the transformation that occurred in the meantime, the parents implicitly dismissed by the story as either cruel or stupid. The rituals of new roommates, of lunchroom hierarchies, of teachers one wants simultaneously to please and disdain are things that I recall, but no longer feel much urgency about. It’s a good story, well told, it’s just not for me.


Every Heart a Doorway was the thirteenth bit of Hugo reading I did this year, and the eleventh I have written about. It won this year’s award for best novella.

The second book in the series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones was published in June 2017. The third, Beneath the Sugar Sky, will be published in January 2018.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/10/20/every-heart-a-doorway-by-seanan-mcguire/


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  1. I think I need to make a list of all the books I own but haven’t yet read that you’ve read and reviewed here so I can push them closer to the top of my reading pile so we can compare reviews :’D. But it is a lot of books and I am laaaaaaaazy.

  2. And maybe I should do more Coming Attractions posts so that we could compare and have frumious fun together. And you could, too, so I could see where we overlap.

    After swearing I would make more progress on freeing up shelf space in this small apartment — look! the mass market paperback shelf isn’t double-shelved anymore! ok, there are three Tad Williams big’uns sideways across the top, but still — what did I do last night? Bought four more is what I did. But! Such good things to look forward to: Wolf Hall (actually a replacement copy for one that got soaked a few years ago when we had water in the basement), the latest No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, China Miéville’s thingie about alternative Parises, and Invisible Planets, an anthology of contemporary Chinese SF. With ancillary essays, which is really what sold me.

  3. I am nowhere near organized enough for Coming Attractions posts. And you’d cry if you saw how poorly I treat my books: the result of being too tired to constantly re-shelve after boisterous three year-old twins. And that’s only the books out in the public spaces of my home. My very locked office has boxes and boxes of books that have been waiting for me to organize them since moving in, oh, about three years ago. Children are a blessing.

    Anyway! I didn’t really care for Wolf Hall, I think McCall Smith is phoning it in with the series these last few installments, and I have at least 2 Mievilles that I need to read. But I’m presently stuck in with Sanderson’s terrific Words Of Radiance, even as I fret over my reading schedule. But I did finish reading EHaD and will post that review shortly.

  4. I just looked back at the preview thing that I wrote in May, and I have read exactly none of them. Not even tried. So I think anything in the way of Coming Attractions would be fairly notional.

    We are squozen into a Berlin apartment that’s small for five people, two cats, and an amount of books that other people might describe as inordinate. Upstairs, i.e., not in the basement, I have one Ikea Billy available for everything of mine. Fortunately, the kids have their own shelving, and more of it.

    One of the things I really liked about Wolf Hall was the sense of just how many people were around in medieval noble households. Now when I read other novels, or watch Game of Thrones, I’m constantly asking where everyone is. I think Dorothy Dunnett does that some, too; military movements in her books are forever being spotted by all the little fishing boats and suchlike that were everywhere in the period she wrote about.

    McCall Smith is definitely a comfort read, so phoning it in will probably be ok for me. I haven’t tried any Sanderson, I wonder why. Hm.

    Enjoyed your review of Every Heart a Doorway! If I have anything to add, I’ll try to do it in the next work break.

  1. […] gonna go read Doug’s review now and see how mine compares (you should, too! Click here.) Ha, unsurprisingly, we have similar feelings. I think I’m generally grouchier, tho, […]

  2. […] have transpired at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children since I read the debut novella, Every Heart a Doorway, but I did not feel lost at all. My thanks to Seanan McGuire for making subsequent installments of […]

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