“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.” – Seanan McGuire, Every Heart a Doorway
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Published by Tor.com, 2016
Re-readability: It had potential, but there’s nothing in this story I’d want to revisit
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Pete
A spoiler-free review
The premise of this Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning novella had me hooked: Children who have visited other worlds and returned to this one are sent to a home where they can learn to cope with this change. This is the first of three (so far) books in the Wayward Children series. Each book stands alone, though there are many crossover characters.
Seanan’s writing is clever and crisp, the world of Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is well realized. The idea that everyone there—including the mysterious Eleanor West herself—was once the hero of a different world is fascinating. I wonder if this could be a commentary on today’s “selfie” culture. We are all the main characters in our own stories, but that doesn’t make us the hero.
The story gets moving with what I expected to be a side-story: a series of murders plague the Home and the murderer walks among them. This is the least intriguing possible aspect of McGuire’s unusual world. But in a sub-200-page book, there isn’t much room for side stories.
I wanted to know more about Nancy’s stories from her years spent in the Halls of the Dead. I wanted to know how and why some people are able to return to their worlds and some never find their way back.
Every time McGuire came close to revealing one of these secrets, another student was murdered, and the murder mystery took center stage again. The reveal at the end of the story is underwhelming and unsurprising, and I was left with no answers about Nancy’s world or any of the other worlds—or at least no answers that I found satisfying.
The entire story felt like filler. I didn’t feel like the character’s personal struggles (which were definitely there) were ever explored.
Rich worldbuilding, interesting characters, solid writing—there was so much potential, yet so many conflicts and questions are left unresolved. Reading Every Heart a Doorway was like watching an ice cream sundae melt while eating a stale sugar cookie. I hope someone borrows McGuire’s ideas and writes a different story with them someday—one that is fresh and thoughtful rather than a trite murder mystery with a fantasy theme.