Reviewed by Ariell Cacciola
It is the rarest of instances when I really want a book to be longer. That is how I felt about Seanan McGuire's novella Every Heart a Doorway. With so many books on unwanted steroids these days, I craved for more of this magical, fantastical, horrifying world that McGuire created. The world she builds breezes by with a story that is both exciting and mysterious.
Nancy is sent to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. You see, she has been through a door to another world, just like the other children populating Ms. West's school. The students generally miss the worlds they've been to and now that they're back, nothing can compare. All of the worlds are different; some are categorized as Nonsense and others are Logic. Nancy visited an Underworld realm and when she returns, much to her parents' dismay, she only wears black and white, and has an odd predilection for all of a sudden standing very still like a statue.
The school is the last seemingly safe haven for these children, as their parents and peers find them strange and even, unsurprisingly, otherworldly. It is soon after Nancy begins boarding at the school that horrifying and macabre events start to happen.
The novella is quick to throw Nancy into her new home. She is our reluctant psychopomp into the story. Unlike other portal stories (think Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the Narnia series), Every Heart is a bit of a reversal. All of the children and teachers have already been through their other worlds and have now returned. They might pine to return to their doorway worlds, but it is the real world that proves to be most other for them.
The aforementioned safe haven proves to be a mischaracterization almost immediately when a vicious murder welcomes Nancy during her first days at the school. The murder is very specific and brutal; a girl has been killed, both of her hands cut off and nowhere to be found. Suspicion is cast on Nancy because of her recent enrollment at the school, but also the designated oddball Jack, a girl who could be straight from a James Whale film. The serial murders continue and they don't become less brutal.
There is a slew of characters in this book, who all prove to have the makings of compelling players, yet the briskness of the novella doesn't allow for much development. Even Nancy reads like a fog more than our engaging host. More pages would have allowed McGuire to go deeper with these characters; as they stand now, they are more like mouthpieces for their respective visited worlds and philosophies. As the murders continue, the reader is told that the students and teachers are frightened (enough so that they must travel in pairs, instead of alone, and bunk up together at night). However, their terror is never really felt. We must trust that there is terror, and that the children and teachers are truly frightened.
It is a strange critique to note that a book is not long enough, but it would have given the narrative and plot a greater opportunity for the reader to view the characters as more than just names and the events less as quick snippets. The story itself is fantastic and I could have been wrapped up in it for far more pages.
Every Heart a Doorway is imaginative and enthralling. McGuire doesn't shy away from the morbid murders weaving through the children's school. She describes so many worlds that the children have visited, each of them their own unique realm. It's no wonder that when they are mired in humdrum upon their return to our world, that they yearn for the days of magic and fantasy of the other realms.