“You’re nobody’s rainbow.
You’re nobody’s princess.
You’re nobody’s doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”
Seanan McGuire plays with expectations and asks the tricky questions with this novella, which takes a Girl, Interrupted angle to a school of misfits made up of kids who have been to some magical land (take your pick of Wonderland, Neverland, Fairyland, Oz, Narnia, and so on), came home, and have trouble adjusting to “normal” life back in the real world. Nancy’s arrival at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children coincides with tragedy, and she is immediately suspect. McGuire keeps readers on their toes trying to guess how this story goes sideways from fantasy and school drama to murder mystery suspense.
This story defies expectations all the way through. McGuire with typical manic glee introduces a system of how magical worlds work. These other worlds rank on a scale of order and chaos, virtue and wickedness, with subgroups in between, and they shape each teen differently. Instead of dwelling on how the worlds work and further adventures in them, she focuses more on the impact these worlds have on these teens. These misfits make a quirky cast to suit the premise. They are trying to find their doorway back to these worlds, to the place that better fits them now. The murder mystery gets into the minds of the misfit kids, the different way they see their situation, and their idea of normal and what it would take to make their world right (and it does not involve being “cured” or going back to their former lives). At the heart of it, it is about belonging, with themes about life as a story each person chooses how it goes.
Speaking of “normal”, this story includes a transgender character and an asexual one. McGuire is an outspoken supporter of diversity in books. Though both are less common, neither are walking mouthpieces to LBGTQIA rights, thrown in as a token nod to diversity, or are there for shock value. McGuire incorporates how it is part of who they are and part of what connected them to the other worlds they visited. The trans character was still in a girl’s body in his visit, and the world rejected him when it realized he was really a boy when it wanted a girl. What they are affects how they relate to the other characters in the story and how the other characters treat them.
Try something a little different for Pride Month, and look for Every Heart a Doorway in the VBPL Catalog. Try other books by Seanan McGuire and, under her alter ego, Mira Grant. For more speculative fiction with diversity, read Ian McDonald’s Luna: New Moon (see review), Kai Ashante Wilson’s Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, and N.K. Jemisin’s Fifth Season (see review).
Review by Tracy V.