Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is closed off from the outside world- no solicitations, no guests, no visitors. The children inside aren’t ordinary; their experiences wouldn’t be called normal. All over the world, children disappear through cracks of the world. They walk into mirrors, disappear in bodies of water, crawl into the shadows, transporting from our world to somewhere else. The world they go to is a world that seems to be made specifically for them; these kids feel like they belong. But magical worlds don’t give outsider children permanent residence. When they’re kicked out, back in their old lives, Eleanor West takes them in, determined to get them back on their feet so they can cope with their carnal desire to return. Very few, if any, return. Nancy is one of these kids. When Nancy encounters a tragedy at the Home, people begin to suspect her – things were going fine before she arrived. To clear her name and figure out what’s happening, Nancy sets out to uncover the truth.
Every Heart a Doorway turns from a whimsical, strange read to an incredibly dark one- abruptly, but deliciously. The first half of the novel is beautifully written, but it was largely world-building and dialogue more than plot. Consequently, I found myself getting lost a lot, bogged down by the intricacies of the world of the book, trying to keep up with everything that was said and left unsaid. The plot only kicks in at the half-mark, and after that, I was hooked. Plot-wise, this novella is fantastic. It’s paced well, it’s unpredictable (for the most part) with twists and turns scattered throughout the narrative. But by far, the strength of the book lies in its world-building.
Or rather… the potential in the world-building. There’s something incredibly comforting in the idea that anybody who feels like they don’t belong has a place that will take them. On the flip side, the idea that you’ll lose your sense of comfort and belonging so abruptly by some force unknown is equally terrifying. Coupled with McGuire’s winding, dense prose, you marvel at the expanse of her imagination. But that’s about it…
Because while the potential and the elements of the imagination were there in theory, they didn’t translate well onto the page. Since the book was so short – so much so that it’s called a novella, not a novel – there wasn’t nearly enough room to explore the potential of the world-building. Most of the explanations were done through dialogue and introspection rather than actual action. You don’t get to see any of these worlds. You don’t get to see the underworld-like universe that Nancy was expelled from. For the most part, I felt like this novel was a paraphrased, abridged version of a larger work- the latter would have detailed, vivid scenes where we got to step into these different universes and see how they operated. The novella feels like a tease, and I disliked finishing the story still feeling like I needed to see more. Imagine you’re given a teaser trailer of a really great film- and then the film just never comes out. This is how the book felt to me.
Moreover, as someone who’s reading taste is largely drawn to character-driven stories, I felt that none of the characters were fully fleshed out. Sure, I understood who Nancy was, but vaguely. Again, I think this has something to do with just how short the book was. You can’t fit in such dense conceptual world-building and a gripping plot into just over 200 pages, and then expect to have multilayered characters either. I’m absolutely certain that I would have enjoyed this book so much more had it been a hundred or a couple hundred pages longer.
Having said that, it’s not a bad book, and it’s not a book that I would ever refrain from recommending. First of all, the main character is asexual, and we barely have any ace rep in literature, so just that alone should be a reason to pick this up. Secondly, my issues were preference-based. I don’t like plot-driven stories. If you do, you’ll adore this. It’s worth picking up just because the world-building is so intricate and well-planned, and the writing is absolutely stunning- me, I wasn’t a massive fan.