Every Heart a Doorway is one of the more original novels I have read in some time that falls in the Young Adult genre. This is a short novel, 169 pages, but the story it contains hearkens back to the Fantasy, Gothic tales told centuries ago. Tales of Peter Pan and Wendy, of Dorothy and Oz and of Alice and the Looking Glass. Only in Every Heart a Doorway, the tale is what happens to the child when they return to the real world and are in exile from the dream world they had found.
“…Sumi was still blinking, eyes wide and round. Then she grinned. ‘Oh, I like you,’ she said. ‘You’re the craziest card in the deck, aren’t you?’
‘We don’t use that word here,’ snapped Eleanor.
‘But it’s true,’said Sumi. ‘She thinks she’s going back. Don’t you, Nancy? You think you’re going to open the right-wrong door and see your stairway to Heaven on the other side, and then it’s one step, two step, how d’you do step, and you’re right back in your story. Crazy girl. Stupid girl. You can’t go back. Once they throw you out, you can’t go back.’
Nancy felt as if her heart were trying to scramble up her throat and choke her. She swallowed it back down, and said, in a whisper, ‘You’re wrong…”
At Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, Eleanor cares for the the children that have disappeared and then have returned. They have returned changed, older in their minds and hearts rather than just their bodies. They talk of faraway lands and of creatures both kind and evil. They speak of the fanciful as if it was real. They talk of falling through doorways where there is no door. In rabbit holes, old wells, mirrors, and the back of wardrobe closets. They talk of magic, both dark and light. But mostly, they talk of going back.
But the lands they left behind have little use for used up children and it is rare that the doors open twice in one lifetime. These children are marooned now. Trapped in a world whose reality no longer makes sense to them. A world that finds them mad. It is to Eleanor and her home, that these children are sent. To be cared for, to understand and somehow find their peace.
But Nancy does not want to come to peace with this real world. She wants to return to her world and her Dark Lord.
Her arrival at the Home for Wayward Children marks a time of change for the home. There is a darkness in the halls now and a sense of tension in the air. When the first body is found, the hands of the young girl severed at the wrist, they begin to realize something far more dangerous is on the grounds. Did something follow the children back or is it one of them? One who fell into a dark world and is willing to do anything to make it back. Nancy and her schoolmates must find out the truth, but as the dead begin to pile up, they find themselves to be the obvious suspects.
Every Heart A Doorway is a terrific novel of fantasy, drama and a little murder mystery as well. The premise is original and not one we’ve come across too often. Children who return from these worlds, how do they acclimate to the real world? How can they return to being regular kids when they were Princesses and warriors? The concept is one of Alice Through the Looking Glass or the kids of Narnia dealing with what amounts to be PTSD. This is an amazing concept and terrifically original in today’s YA genre.
The ensuing murder mystery is a direct result of the psychological drama and how it plays itself out.
McGuire has surrounded Nancy with a terrific cast of characters. The teenage cliques involved in the school, which are due strongly to which fantasy worlds the children returned from, gives this tale a sense of reality when all around it is dealing with the chasm between reality and fantasy. Which leads me to my only gripe about this book and one I cannot believe I’m actually making.
It should have been longer.
The characters, each one, have awesome back stories of their own that should have been told in more detail. Instead we have a two paragraph or so blurb of them, even Nancy’s is barely touched upon and only then to explain her yearning to return to this fantasy world. Considering that the motive for the killings is directly tied to one of these back stories, I feel they could have been more deeply explored. Perhaps they will be, in a novel to come. Or perhaps, this is me, just really sorry to have come to the end of this book so quickly.
Every Heart a Doorway is a terrific novel that bends and melds genres and ends up with a really good read!