Friday, February 12, 2016

Women in Horror: Every Heart a Doorway

Welcome to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. You may think it would be filled with delinquents in need of some direction and structure, but you would be wrong. Each child (or young adult) in the school found a doorway to another world. Each world is different, but all of them are vastly different from our own. Each child fit in perfectly there as if the world were tailored to them and all of them have been expelled for one reason or another. They all look for the appearance of a door that shouldn't be there and hold out hope for a return to their perfect world. Everything was going smoothly until Nancy arrives at the school. Suddenly, students and teachers are being murdered with body parts missing. This safe haven now houses an unknown murderer, which is suspected to be Nancy because she is new. So Nancy and her mismatched, misfit friends decide to do their own investigation and find out who the murderer is and why they are collecting body parts.

Every Heart a Doorway is under 200 pages long, but it contains one of the most memorable and heartfelt stories I've ever read. All of the children and young adults at the home just don't fit into their families anymore. They have experienced grand adventures, fantastic people, and worlds beyond imagining. Some of the worlds are whimsical and fun while others are dark and more sinister, but every person fit perfectly wherever they were. Their parents assumed they were abducted and want them to return to how they used to be, but it's just not possible. Some of the parents never knew their child at all and didn't even remember or understand them in the first place. They simply miss their own iteration of their child who doesn't actually exist. These families mean well, but trying to fit a person into a box they simply don't fit in is toxic. This can be translated to real life, where parents don't respect their children's life choices. The cast of characters is diverse with different cultures, gender expression, and sexuality. They don't belong anywhere in this world, so they build a home and a family of choice together. I know plenty of people alienated from their families for one reason or another and have done the same. The family you choose can be much more supportive because they know you as you are, not who they hope you would be.

Nancy, our has white hair with black streaks that everyone assumes is dyed. It isn't. She lived in the Land of the Dead for a while, standing still as a statue and eating tiny amounts of food to sustain herself to please the Lord of Death. Before she even went to another world, she knew that she wasn't interested in anyone sexually. Romance and flirting are fun and enjoyable, but anything beyond that isn't appealing. Asexuality isn't seen much in any sort of storytelling medium, so it was nice to see the world from her perspective. I felt for her when her parents just assumed she had an eating disorder and then sent her to the school with clothes they knew she wouldn't want to wear. She longs for her quiet, still life back in the Land of the Dead, but she befriends a variety of people at the school: Jack (Jacqueline) and Jill (twins) from a world ruled by a vampire, Sumi from a Confection world, and Kade who went into a fairyland but was returned because of his gender.

Although I liked Nancy, I thought most of the other ward's stories sounded more interesting. For example, Jack and Jill were raised with arbitrary expectations. Jack was expected to be the beautiful one while Jill would be the smart one without observing their actual interests. Everything they were given by their parents as well as how they were treated reflected this idea. Their world was the only time they were allowed to be themselves and be treated as such. Jill became the favored ward of the vampire lord and Jill became the apprentice of Dr. Bleak, who would bring the dead to life Frankenstein style and do other scientific magic. Kade's story is also interesting, if a little unclear. He went into his fairy world as a girl, killed the Goblin King, and was about to take over the throne when he was expelled. It's unclear what exactly happened, but his gender no longer aligned with what the fairies wanted. It doesn't matter what his physicality is; his gender expression is respected at the school except for one small incident. I would love another book telling the other people's stories or moving forward in time to new wards.

Every Heart a Doorway is incredibly dense. Seanan McGuire packs a lot into this short novella sized book. I would have been happy if it was just a slice of life type of book, but a murder mystery is added. The culprit was pretty predictable, but the journey was still enjoyable and suspenseful. This narrative puts into perspective how horrific fairy tale stories are. Most of them were familiar in some way, but we are used to Disney sanitized versions of them. These ones revel in their darkness and don't always come out with a happy ending. I wish the book were about 300 pages longer, but I will be satisfied picking up McGuire's October Daye or Indexing series in the meantime. I will read anything Seanan McGuire writes because she has a way of magnetic story telling that I can't get enough of.

My rating; 5/5 fishmuffins

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