“. . . we went through. We came out on this moor that seemed to go on forever, between the mountains and the angry sea. And that sky! I’d never seen so many stars before, or such a red, red moon. The door slammed shut behind us. We couldn’t have gone back if we’d wanted to — and we didn’t want to. We were twelve. We are going to have an adventure if it killed us.”
“Did you? asked Nancy. “Have an adventure, I mean?”
“Sure,” said Jack bleakly. “It didn’t even kill us. Not permanently anyway. But it changed everything.”
One of my favorite book bloggers to read (and not just because our tastes are similar) began his take on Every Heart a Doorway by saying:
Sometimes we either meet a book (or a novella, in this case,) that is precisely the right fit for your soul, (at the moment,) or just happens to be original enough right when you need it, that it fills your life and your mind with brightness and joy.
For me, this is one of those pieces. To muddy the waters even more, I’m an unabashed fan of the author and I’m likely to pick up all of her writings without even checking the subject matter because I simply trust the woman to steer me to any shore.
If I didn’t start off by quoting that, I’d end paraphrasing/plagiarizing it.
So here’s the deal in a world where portal fantasies are possible, and children all over the world are going through them — à la Lucy Pevensie et al., Dorothy Gale, September, Quentin Coldwater, Alice, Jason Walker, etc. — and, sadly (?) most of these children end up back home. Some of them are glad to be back in this world and want to put their adventures behind them — a lot of them don’t want to be here anymore and want to return to wherever it was they went. Both kinds of children have a hard time coping in this world and need help. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is for the latter kind.
Nancy is a girl recently returned, and is very different than the girl her parents have been missing. They want her fixed, they want their daughter back — not whoever this person is with different attitudes, actions, clothes, etc. — West doesn’t promise that (but she may have allowed them to think she’ll do that, just so she can help Nancy), but she can help Nancy adjust to this world. So she joins the small student body at the private school/treatment center. The last thing Nancy wants is to be fixed, to be that girl again — which just means she fits in here, with returned kids from all over the country, who’ve been in all sorts of worlds. As Nancy begins to understand the nature of these other worlds, the effects they have on children, and why many of them want to leave again, so do we.
It turns out, all of the residents of West’s Home are going to learn that you can have plenty of adventures here, too. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
I really liked all of these children — the adults we met, too, actually — Jack in particular. But every one of them — even the less-than-nice ones — are great characters and I’d have gladly spent another 200 pages with them, easy.
The writing is incredible — not that I’ve ever had any real problems with McGuire before, but she kicked it up a notch here — and is writing a different kind of story than I’m used to, so she writes differently. This book took me longer to read than it should’ve, because I had to go back and reread several sentences/lines/paragraphs — not because I needed to read them again for clarification, but because they were so perfect, so quotable, so . . . something. I’m not going to start quoting beyond what I opened with, because I don’t know if I could stop — Laura got two of them I made notes about. You could literally be amused, melancholy, horrified, feeling whimsy, and nervous within a couple of paragraphs — only to turn the page and start all over again. Not because she was jerking you around or anything, it’s just that kind of story, that kind of playing with language, just that kind of broken reality.
McGuire gave us such a satisfying ending — complete, tidy, fitting, bittersweet, heartwarming — and then I read another paragraph or so, and it’s so much better (and all of the above to the next degree) once you got to the actual ending. Then I closed the book and I teared up a little — for no reason at all, really, but it felt really appropriate.
Can I say this is positively Gaiman-esque without making it sound like McGuire’s derivative in any way? I don’t want to even hint at suggesting that — but man, if you like Neil Gaiman’s stuff — get this. If you’ve ever read a portal fantasy and wondered what happened to the kids afterwards– get this. If you like things that are good, and don’t mind magic in your reading — get this.