Title: "Every Heart a Doorway"
Plot Type: Fantasy
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles: Tor (4/5/2016)
Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children gives new meaning to the word "wayward." These children aren't runaways in the usual sense. They didn't pack a bag and sneak off through their bedroom windows to seek better lives. No…they stepped through doorways—portals—into various magical realms. Now they have been sent back to the human world, where no one believes their fantastical tales about candy lands, dancing skeletons, unicorns, goblin kings, vampire masters, and more. In frustration, their parents send them to Eleanor, who promises to rid their children of their delusions. In truth, Eleanor herself was once one of these children. In her case, that magical doorway remains open to her, but she can't enter it until she regains her childhood.
The story begins as Nancy arrives at the Home. Nancy's doorway took her to the Halls of the Dead, where she perfected her innate talents for silence and stillness and learned to love living in the dark and colorless twilight. As Nancy tearfully explains to her new roommate: "I was going to stay forever, until [the Lord of the Dead] said I had to come back here long enough to be sure. Well, I was sure before I ever left, and I don't know why my door isn't here." As Nancy is introduced to the other children, she learns that all of them live with the hope that they will someday find the doorway that will take them back to the perfect life they were so sad to have been forced to leave—the worlds that felt like home.
Nancy soon learns more about the magical realms: "Here in the so-called 'real world,' you have north, south, east, and west, right? Those don't work for most of the portal worlds…So we use other words. Nonsense, Logic, Wickedness, and Virtue. There are smaller sub directions, little branches that may or may not go anywhere, but those four are the big ones. Most worlds are either high Nonsense or high Logic, and then they have some degree of Wickedness or Virtue built into their foundations from there." The main difference between the Nonsense and Logic worlds is that Nonsense worlds have no rules, while Logic worlds have strict rules. Breaking a rule in a Logic world is a sure way to get evicted and sent back to the human world.
As Nancy begins to adjust to her new surroundings, her roommate is gruesomely murdered, followed shortly by the violent death of a second girl. In both cases, the murderer cut away various body parts. At this point, Nancy teams up with three of her new friends to clean up the crime scenes and—hopefully—figure out the identity of the murderer. Warning: the dead bodies are graphically described, so...not for the faint of heart.
Once again, McGuire has created a fascinating world with quirky characters, dark humor, and a suspenseful plot—all in just 176 pages. Publishers Weekly's review calls the story "a love letter to anyone who's ever felt out of place." For all of the children under Eleanor's care, the portal worlds they yearn for are the only places where they felt accepted unconditionally—where they could be themselves. It's no wonder that they all want to return. I wouldn't mind returning either, so perhaps McGuire will consider turning this world into a series.
Click HERE to view several illustrated scenes from "Every Heart a Doorway" on Tor.com. Click HERE to go to this novella's Amazon.com page where you can click on the cover art to read a longer excerpt.
Click HERE to read an interview with McGuire and Tor Senior Editor Lee Harris, who has described the premise of the novella in this way: "Every Heart a Doorway tells the story of what happens after Ever After. When a portal fantasy has ended, and its young protagonist is no longer wanted, where do they go? And how do they cope with the transition back into the 'real' world? It begins almost as a coming-of-age tale, but soon becomes something quite different and unexpected.” In this interview, McGuire discusses the primary themes of the story and the importance that gender identity played in her creation of her characters.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of "Every Heart a Doorway" is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through NetGalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.