For everyone who ever felt that some other world was their home, that the rules and ways of this one made no sense, Every Heart a Doorway offers a waystation for the weary traveller on their search.
Eleanor West runs a home for wayward children, mostly girls but a few boys too who have tumbled back through doors from worlds that felt like home to find themselves unwillingly returned to this one. Each feels a terrible grief that they had, just for a time, belonged somewhere only to have transgressed somehow and been tossed back here to vainly search for a way back. Ms. West, a fellow traveller, runs a school of sorts but mostly a sanctuary for those who belong nowhere else. Some came back from worlds of rainbows and light, others from dark underworlds that provided a stillness that allowed them to find their true nature. Very few, they are told, ever find their way back. Lightning (almost) never strikes twice.
All come from families that never understood them, either which gender they really were, or the odd brilliance of their minds. Upon their childrens’ return from wherever they were, the confused parents assume their kids are insane and look to this school to take their weird lost children and “fix” them. Ms. West lies to the parents to rescue these kids. There is no fixing, only acceptance.
There is a lot of grief in this strange novella. Kindness too, compassion from a tribe of outcasts. And a murder mystery, although I would say that it is oddly not the point of the story. The point is can you ever go home again? Either because that world is gone or you have changed and are no longer welcome there? Ms. West’s phrase that lightning never strikes twice is amended by the soft whisper of almost. The hope makes the sadness bearable, though a character wisely tells you in the beginning that hope is dangerous. She is telling you the truth.
And why is it that the school is mostly girls? Because boys are noisy enough to never get lost, that parents of boys are primed to notice their absence where a daughter’s might go long unnoticed just as she was also unseen all the days standing right before them. Author Seanan McGuire writes this painful truth: “We notice the silence of men. We depend on the silence of women.”
This is a difficult book, not in the reading of it but in whether it is everyone’s cup of tea. It is YA but filled with themes and depth that make it very adult. It is beautifully written, filled with truths too painful for most fairytales but it is more of a fairytale than I’ve read in years. Real fairytales are not for the faint hearted. They are maps of sorts, for those of us who still half remember some other place more real than this. For most of the characters, there is no happy ending. For most. Almost. And yet, in the way life is unfair, that is the random hope we all cling to. Highly Recommend.