Review | Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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It’s been a few days since I finished Every Heart a Doorway. I can’t help but still think about it. It’s one of those stories that just sticks with you, makes  you think.

It’s about a girl named Nancy who disappeared into another world, an underworld most likely. Her parents, who don’t really know what happened other than that Nancy disappeared, send her away to school. Nancy’s new school isn’t what she’d expected. After being dropped off (rather unceremoniously), Nancy realizes her schoolmates are all like her: children sent off to fairylands and underworlds and magical places only to be sent back to their homes where no one can understand them.

The story is just so sad, in a good way.

It’s all about being left behind, not fitting in, and wanting, wanting something that you know you’ll never get so badly your heart breaks.

Each student had at one point found a world where they belonged. The worlds range the gambit from “high logic” to “high nonsense” and “wicked” to “virtuous.” All of the students describe their trips into these worlds as having gone home for the first time. Being there comes with a sense of utter belonging. This would be fine by itself, but McGuire echoes the loss in the setting she creates. The school is whimsical and filled with mystery, but that all falls a bit flat. Despite free reign of the grounds and rooms chock full of color, the students can’t seem to recover, and neither do we.

From the very beginning, the students make it clear: they will almost certainly never go back, and hope, while all they may have, is more painful than the despair that follows.

In a way, reading the story is eerie.  But, what surprised me most was how much it fit. How could Wendy really go back after Neverland? Could Lucy and Edmond really approach the “real” world the same way after Narnia?

It was the fairytale ending I was wanting.

The children are all a mess. They’re too old for their bodies, fixated on what they’ve lost, and lonely, even among the only people who can really understand them. Each one of them gets their own backstory and personality. Even the crueler among them is humanized, shown to be a bit broken. That’s part of what makes the story painful.

The setting is humorous in its own way. The teachers are all former student, the kids have to go to group therapy, rumors and gossip abound. There’s no escape from cliques even in fairyland exile.

The plot also has some action. While it can seem a slow build, tragedy strikes. Murder and mystery descend. Nancy, of course, is suspect, being from an underworld and the newest student. The action itself leads to heartbreak. It has a bittersweetness that it adds to the story.

At the end, I felt that I knew the characters, like I’d bonded with them and felt their hopes and dreams. Hats off to you, Ms. McGuire.

Every Heart a Doorway will be out April 5th 2016.

I received a copy of Every Heart a Doorway for free in exchange for an honest review.



Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

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It’s been a week or two since I read this one, but the more I think about Among Others, the more I like it. I’ll be the first to admit it, this story is total sucker-bait for a scifi nerdlette who loves character building and magic that just may be someone’s hallucinations. It follow Mor, a young girl from Wales who has escaped from her mother’s home after an accident killed her twin sister. Mor has bunkered down with her father’s family and is attending boarding school far from home, hoping against hope that her mother who may or may not have magical powers won’t find her.

The best part of this story is Mor. She’s the kind of 16 year old girl that feels so familiar to me. She loves books. She’s smart but spends a lot of time in fantasy land. Mor is funny and clever in a way that’s very accurate to her age. Yes, she’s a bit angst-y (what teenager isn’t) but she makes sense.

Walton spends a lot of time with the idea of grief and family illness. She looks at the way they create complex relationships between family units as a whole. Mor has just lost her sister, which she attributes to her mother’s mental instability combined with volatile magic. But Walton doesn’t just leave the blame solely in that relationship. Mor’s grief affects the way she perceives her largely absent father, her aunt and grandfather who lived with the twins, and herself. In this way, Walton’s portrayal of grief and family mental illness is very accurate. Mor doesn’t just mourn her sister, she blames her mother for the part she played; she holds her father accountable for leaving the girls in a vulnerable position; and she strongly believes that her aunt, who knows about both her mother’s instability and magic, should have done more to protect the twins.

The magic system Walton uses is complicated, largely because the reader is never quite sure if it’s actually magic or the fantasies of a young girl who reads more than may be healthy. Mor’s magic is conducted through faries who look like trees or rocks and who only speak Welsh. If something goes wrong, she’s pretty convinced it’s because of the magic, but Mor is clear, magic doesn’t work in obvious ways; magic almost always looks like something that could have just happened on it’s own. The reader is often left guessing. I really liked that aspect of the story.

The book has a lot going for it, and it’s the kind of book that sticks with you after you’ve read it. No, it’s not your typical fantasy, but it’s enjoyable in a slower-paced, more literary way. If nothing else, I immediately went out and got another Walton book, just to see what her other stories have to offer.

Overall, a 4/5.