I’ve been focusing a lot on promotional stuff as of late, but I wanted to take today to return to my Tuesday Book Recommendations.
I get these “author crushes.” Basically, it’s when I look at another author with a combination of envy and awe. And yes, I know—we all have our own voices and styles, etc. Still, it doesn’t stop me from looking at the work of other authors and thinking, “I wish I could do that!”
Seanan McGuire is one of those authors for me. Every book I’ve read of hers, whether it’s her fae fantasy October Daye series or her zombie political thriller Newsflesh trilogy (written under her Mira Grant pseudonym), every book I’ve read of hers has been entertaining and engaging, with great characters and story. But what really gets me about McGuire’s work is her worldbuilding. Every sci-fi/fantasy universe that she creates is so complex, well-realized, and they’re each so different than one another.
In Every Heart A Doorway, McGuire’s new novella, she describes multiple, unique worlds, each of them a love child of Lewis Carroll and Tim Burton. At the heart of the story is a question: what would happen when Alice and Dorothy Gale and the Pevensie children came home? They’ve had these big adventures in this fantastical worlds, and then they come home and are expected to act like nothing has changed. Their family and teachers and friends have certain beliefs about who they are and what they’re like—but they no longer fit.
The book takes place at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. The families of these children believe they’re attending a school to cure them of their otherworldly fantasies, to turn them back into the people they were before their disappearances. But really, this is a retreat for children who have gone to another world, long desperately to go back, and have to learn to live in the world knowing the doorway back “home” will probably never open for them again.
There a murder mystery, but that was the least interesting part of the book for me. The most interesting were the stories of the students and their respective worlds: Nancy and the Hall of the Dead, where stillness and silence reign; Jack and her Frankenstein-esque scientific pursuits; Jill and her vampire-master; Christopher and the bone princess with whom he fell in love.
But the story that touched me the most was Kade’s, a transgender boy. Kade was kicked out of his world, after years of being a hero there, when they realized that the girl they thought they had taken was really a boy. But Kade’s parents cannot accept that he is transgender, either, so he’s stuck at the school as Miss Eleanor’s ward, not really belonging anywhere.
There are deeper metaphors here, about growing up and finding a place where you belong and not fitting in with the world around you. It was sad and sweet and beautiful, and it touched me in ways I can’t quite articulate. Maybe because I was one of those kids who never quite fit in. I would have loved a school like this one.
I also loved McGuire’s treatment of gender and sexual identities in the story. Nancy, the protagonist, is asexual. Kade, the leading male character in the story, is transgender. This story is not about that, and for the most part those aspects of their characters are treated as no big deal by the other students. For Nancy and Kade, their sexual and gender identities are just one more way they don’t fit with the world around them.
To be honest, I almost didn’t pick this book up. I got sick of YA novels after reading a lot of them several years back, and I’ve mostly avoided them since. I did so because I’m a McGuire fan, and because the premise sounded interesting.
And I’m so glad I did. It touched me in ways I didn’t expect, more deeply than any other story has in a long time.