Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.
No matter the cost.
If you’re a fantasy reader, or even someone who at some point has imbibed a portal fantasy or two (a la Alice in Wonderland, or Narnia) than this is pretty much the story you’ve always wanted, though you never knew you did. Brilliantly subversive and utterly delightful, this novella hits home in every respect.
Every Heart A Doorway is the story of the after – what happens after that brave child tumbles backs out the wardrobe, or rabbit hole, and returns home. And this story makes such perfect sense, it feels so RIGHT to anyone who has read any of those kind of stories, that to me it felt like a perfect harmony to a refrain we all know, or a coda that’s always been there. Because of course this is what happens next!
(And quick sidebar: at one point, this story mentions a sister school of sorts, in Maine – to which my random brain immediately said, of course! Catherynne Valente’s in Maine, she must be in charge of that one!)
But this story, THIS STORY – it feels oddly familiar, and yet it’s never quite what you expect (plus usually it’s a little disturbing), and I loved that so very much. Again, it all just makes such perfect sense – of course kids who actually lived in a portal world would be all kinds of strange and different, and OF COURSE they would all want to return to the place they belonged, if only they could find it. At its core, this is a story about being different, and being lost and alone as a result, and there is no way anyone who ever was a teenager won’t be able to relate.
On top of which, there’s also a murder mystery to this tale, one that tackles what the reality of living in those worlds would actually be like, no matter how glossy the patina – kind of like how, if you stop to think about it, the fact that Batman deploys a bunch of pre-teen child soldiers against violent psychos on a nightly basis is actually pretty messed up. But the discord among the students, the different cliques and social discrimination, the oddball group who comes together to solve the dirty business, Scooby style – aaahhh, I loved it all. I loved it so much.
So just, go read this novella already, won’t you?
Byrt Grade: A+
As Levar Burton likes to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
Tight and tautly told, Every Heart grabs one of speculative fiction’s most enduring tropes — the portal fantasy, where a person slips from the real world into a magical realm somewhere beyond — and wrings it for all the poignancy, dark humor, and head-spinning twists it can get.
…one of the most charming, unsettling books I have read in a long time.