If only we could all find the doorway in our hearts

I’m about to depart for the airport to pick up my best beloved and bring her back home after a week long absence, which means I’m going to be tied up with driving for the next six hours (it’s OK, it’s worth it). I’m going to recommend some reading for you while I’m occupied.

I was blown away by Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire. It’s a genuinely original fantasy story that steals from a lot of familiar fantasy tropes. You know there are all these stories about kids who are magically transported to a strange and unfamiliar world, like Narnia or Oz or Wonderland? What if this was a relatively common occurrence, with many strange worlds that are much weirder or scarier than the familiar fantasy lands? And most importantly, what happens to the children who have been shaped in their formative years by alien places with inhuman residents?

That’s the focus of the story: these children would be really different, with a different sense of self and different yearnings and different behaviors, and they’ve returned to our culture, which can’t even deal with something as mundane and normal as gay kids. What you find is that most of the parents of these children can’t cope and want to somehow reshape and indoctrinate the children to be more ‘conventional’, causing all sorts of misery for everyone involved. The lucky ones find themselves at a school in this story, run by a woman who had stumbled through a portal to a fantasy land and returned, who now runs her home as a refuge for these strange children.

So the main character, Nancy, is ace, and this is a minor metaphor for her true strangeness, which is that she lived in a world of ghosts who disliked the business of the living, so she has learned to retreat into statue-like stillness. The character I identified with most was Jack, who was trained on a world of mad scientists and horrible experimentation. Jack, by the way, is a girl — try not to impose your gender expectations on any of the people in the book, because you’ll probably get them wrong, or at best will be focusing on irrelevancies.

Also don’t think that a school that favors tolerance and openness will be free of tension and conflict. The whole story is about the way all these different people, different to a degree much greater than anything we experience in everyday life, have to struggle to resolve those differences, and how unhappiness can find a home anywhere you let it.

It’s fabulously well-written and thoughtful — it’s not really escapist fare. It’s also the first in a series which I’m looking forward to. Also, this is not your usual fantasy story that inevitably gets drawn out into an overlong trilogy of ten books or whatever. The main characters in this one achieve resolution of their various conflicts, for good or ill (no spoilers, but for some there are no happy endings, and for others, what they consider a happy ending might not make you happy at all), and I think the next book will focus on different kids or different sides of the story. I don’t know! Isn’t that wonderful when you find a book that doesn’t always trundle down familiar tracks?


  1. cartomancer says

    The 2007 World of Darkness RPG “Changeling: The Lost” dealt with much the same themes. The players’ characters are all survivors of fae kidnappings and have to cope with the banality of the real world, and each other, while dealing with the supernatural changes that their time among the fae has wrought and avoiding being captured again.

  2. says

    I love Every Heart a Doorway, and I’m glad it’s finding a wider audience. The next book set in that world (those worlds?), Down Among the Sticks and Bones, comes out June 13, and she’s announced a third book for next January.

  3. says

    Nancy, is ace, and this is a minor metaphor for her true strangeness

    I’m slightly miffed by this aspect. Being ace… is a metaphor… for being strange?

  4. says

    No. Being ace, being a ghost girl, it’s all about being different. Nothing in the book implies anything wrong or bad about any of it.

  5. typecaster says

    PZ – I don’t know if you’ve run across Seanan’s music, but I’d recommend finding her disc “Wicked Girls”. All of the songs are excellent, IMHO, and several also deal with this book’s focus – children who spent time in Other places. Some you know, some not.

    “Dorothy, Alice and Wendy and Jane,
    Susan and Lucy, we’re calling your names,
    All the Lost Girls who came out of the rain
    And chose to go back on the shelf.
    Tinker Bell says, and I find I agree
    You have to break rules if you want to break free.
    So do as you like – we’re determined to be
    Wicked girls saving ourselves.”

  6. says

    Well I wouldn’t attack a book I haven’t read. (Anyways, the ace critics I know gave the book positive reviews.) It’s hard to tell sometimes whether a story depicts aces as strange because that’s how society views them, or because the story itself is buying into those views.

  7. Alverant says

    She’s also a great singer. I have most/all her albums. There’s a song she does about the Black Death that’s pretty good and got recognized by the CDC.

  8. says

    Any awkwardness in what I wrote is my fault, not McGuire’s. I did not intend it in a deprecating way, because everything about all of the characters is “strange” — so being ace or straight or trans or gay is just part of their personalities, and is treated as perfectly normal by the author.

    And yes, McGuire seems like an interesting (even strange) person herself, and I look forward to seeing her at Convergence.

  9. says

    “What if this was a relatively common occurrence, with many strange worlds that are much weirder or scarier than the familiar fantasy lands? And most importantly, what happens to the children who have been shaped in their formative years by alien places with inhuman residents?”

    It’s not all fantasy. Try imagining yourself as a patient in a state hospital for 938 days as a youngster. Then try to understand what it might take to ‘fit in’ upon returning home and to school. I wrote about that experience in a book Lucky One: Making it Past Polio and Despair, released about ten years ago.
    We should also realize kids growing up in an abusive (physical, sexual, emotional) home may as well have been in the world of oz, for the damage (maladjustment) done to them.

  10. chigau (違う) says

    I tried to take this out of my local library today
    it was not on the shelf even though the catalog said it should be there
    *scary organ music*
    I put a hold on it.
    That should work.

  11. chigau (違う) says

    ramaus #11
    Not your book. My library doesn’t have it but I will recommend that they get it.

  12. says

    Ever since I read “Each to Each” in the Women destroy SF anthology, I’ve been a great fan of Seanan McGuire. One of the few authors I pre-order (though I haven’t had time to read more than the shopping list in recent times…

  13. methuseus says

    I’m so behind the times. I had no idea what ace meant until I read comment #9. It’s good to understand the lingo, but personally disconcerting when I am behind on it.

    As for the author, I have been reading some of her short stories and love her writing. I will probably pick this book up at some point, though I’m not that good at keeping up on my existing list.

  14. chigau (違う) says

    I just finished the ‘prequel’, Down Among the Sticks and Bones.
    Horrifying story.
    I borrowed both from the library but am in the process of buying tree versions.