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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What I’m Reading: Every Heart a Doorway

Today I have a review of the novella, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. Plot via Goodreads:

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations No Visitors No Guests 
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.
Appeal: This book is perfect for fans of darker fairy tales because when these kids return from their jaunts in magical lands, they are forever changed, and most cannot readjust to life in the real world. Just that set up alone will draw many fantasy fans to this novella.

Nancy as our guide is a clever way to introduce the setting here. She has returned from a very dark world, but yet, she loved it. She was literally surrounded by death and wants to return more than anything else. McGuire handles this so well. It would be easy to explain why a kid would have loved being in a happy land full of sparkles and fairies, but to be able to explain why Nancy feels grief at being away from her dark lord while still having her be an empowered young lady [she is no victim] is quite a feat.

Soon after Nancy’s arrival one of the students is murdered. This plot device keeps the story moving briskly and allows us to meet every character and evaluate them as a suspect. McGuire is able to introduce each character and explain the hierarchy of magical lands and how they are divided (it is fascinating, and in the readalikes section I have more on the topic), all while keeping the murder investigation moving forward.

While most of the kids at the school are archetypical examples of the type of kid that gets sucked into  a vaguely familiar magical land, there are 2 very key characters who we all know-- Jack and Jill. Their story stands at the center of this slim volume. McGuire gives these kids, who all we have ever known about them is that they "go up the hill,” a complicated and intriguing backstory.

Overall, this is a character driven story. If you are not interested in the kids and their plight as refugees from a magical world, you will not like this book.

The novella also has a main trans character and the entire story is very queer friendly. It is actually a good read for all teens who are questioning their place in the world [for what whatever reason] as it is all about being who you are and being true to your self first and foremost, no matter what social norms tell you that you should be.

It is a clever, thought provoking, and fun read that can be consumed in a single sitting, especially on a "dark and stormy night.” And McGuire promises more tales of the Wayward Children to come. Yay.

Three Words That Describe This Book: fairy tale retelling, atmospheric, clever

Readalikes: My first readalike is this map/article from Tor.com about how the information in Every Heart a Doorway can help all of us geeks map every magical world into a multiverse. This article will lead you down a rabbit hole of geeky fun.

I think Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is an obvious readlaike, but honestly, I felt like The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a better option. Both Every Heart a Doorway and The Night Circus have teen protagonists in a magical realism setting with great details and a dark quest. It is important to note however that The Night Circus is a long novel, and Every Heart a Doorway is a novella.

Three other books I have read and really enjoyed which all have a fairy tale feel but are not explicitly fantasy are The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert, The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick de Witt

I have read many clever, twists on fairy tale novels. Here are some of my favorites with links to the reviews. None of these are straight out retellings, rather, like this novella, they are darker, original, tales that use a fairy tale as the story’s starting point. And remember those reviews contain even more readalikes:
For a similar author, I would suggest Helen Oyeyemi. I read Mr. Fox a few years ago, and that would be a great readalike. I am also about to read Boy, Snow, Bird for the ARRT book discussion.

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