Most kids who grew up on fantasy novels have asked themselves: what happened to Dorothy when she returned home from Oz, to Alice after she left Wonderland, or to Susan after she was barred from Narnia? Seanan McGuire explores this question in Every Heart a Doorway, the first installment in a series that follows the lives of teenagers who return from magical worlds. As students at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, they cope with life in the real world even as they long to return to their versions of fairyland. Whether that’s a landscape of rainbow roads or a stark place of shadows and silence, what all those other worlds have in common is that for each child, they were the place they felt most at home, where they were free to be themselves. Only now they’re in a boarding school for misfits.
The concept is fun and engaging, and the execution is excellent, earning McGuire a sci-fi fantasy award trifecta: top honors from Locus, Nebula, and Hugo. Like a rabbit hole or a magical wardrobe, Every Heart a Doorway is a great portal to a fantasy land, especially for readers who might not think this particular genre is for them, thus achieving one of our goals when selecting books for the Indy Book Club!
McGuire playfully subverts the tropes of portal fantasies, evoking the magic of childhood but tempering it with tinges of horror and darker themes. There’s a sophistication to the development of the characters; the book’s compact story manages to fully flesh out many of the school’s residents, all while building the complex worlds where they grew up. Blending a murder mystery with a coming-of-age story while addressing queer identity and mental illness and lovingly satirizing boarding school novels might seem like more than a fantasy under 200 pages can accomplish, but McGuire pulls it off, leaving readers with much to discuss.
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