Author: Seanan McGuire
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review By: Shana
I thoroughly enjoyed this unique, little book. The story manages to combine the fantastical and ordinary, at once peculiar and familiar, ghoulish and whimsical, macabre and heartfelt. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a place that takes in youth who have wandered into and then been ejected from other fantasy worlds.
Worlds that fall on a spectrum, or really in four general cardinal directions – nonsense, virtue, logic, and wicked. No two worlds identical, with wonders and horrors and rules of their own. The students each found secret doorways to these worlds, and such doorways are fickle at best, sometimes appearing only once never to be seen again. We are introduced to these concepts and the school by Nancy. In her late teens, she is the newest student and we see the school through her eyes.
The students, while underpinned by the fantastic, are typical in other ways. There are cliques, rivalries, friendships, and bullying. Though almost every student at the school longs to return to their own worlds, worlds that in many cases are the only ones that feel like home, McGuire uses the otherworldly to explore issues of mental health, belonging, and that cusp between childhood and adulthood. These issues can be made more immediate by virtue of the worlds the students came from. In some, violence was all in the normal course, in others death was embraced, and in every case the students came back fundamentally changed.
The story itself has its gruesome bits – a string of murders occurs and the killer removes parts of each victim for mysterious reasons. The adults at the school have no special powers to protect the students, and there is the mix of fear and accusation as everyone fears where the killer will next strike. Bonds are tested, and the ugliness of human nature highlighted. But even when it is very dark, there is still that bit of whimsy and goodness to keep it from being oppressive.
McGuire (who writes under the name Mira Grant when doing SF/horror), strikes a beautiful balance of the horrific and the lovely. And unlike her work as Grant, Every Heart a Doorway is lean and fast-paced, with none of the bloat that some of her other books have. I thoroughly enjoyed this strange little tale, and look forward to continuing the series.