Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Book 1 of the Wayward Children series, was one of the final books I got out of the library before everything shut down due to pandemic. And the subsequent books in the series were the very first ones I requested once the library moved to “curbside pick-up” options. Because this is an amazing series.
The series centers around Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a boarding school for children (or teens, really) who have returned from magical lands. Stories like Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz focus mainly on the adventure and end when the child gets home. This series picks up what happens next, when children try to fit back into a world where no one believes their stories of where they’ve been.
I love virtually everything about this series. It gets a little gruesome for me in spots and I don’t love that – but I love everything else. The concept is brilliant; I always love stories that take a new angle on something familiar, especially an angle that is somehow both new and obvious. As soon as it’s said, I don’t know why it hasn’t been thought of before – but it wasn’t.
The world-building is fascinating, applying logic and consistency to something inherently mad, while maintaining that madness too. The “children” (I’ll call them that, though they tend to be teens by the time they’re at the school) each go to different magical worlds, and they’re only called to the worlds that they are uniquely suited for. This is much of the pathos of the series – the children each found their perfect place, the place where they belong and are accepted exactly as they are, then lost it somehow. This is especially powerful as the book is filled with a diverse cast of characters, many of whom are not easily accepted in this world. For example, in Book 3, one of the lead characters is an overweight girl who was perfectly physically suited to a water world, and was honored among mermaids.
The writing style is beautiful and lyrical and a delight. I’m reminded slightly of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, as the narrative style has some of the same wryness and cleverness to it, but this series brings the poetic style up considerably. I’m not usually one for poetic, literary books, but this is beautifully poetic writing that is still fully clear and accessible, which is a gorgeous balance.
There are five books in the series so far, with Book 6 projected for early next year. I’ve read the first four, and am picking up Book 5 at the library later this week. The pattern seems to be to alternate ongoing story with prequels. So Book 1 sets the stage at the Home for Wayward Children. Book 2 (Down Among the Sticks and Bones) offers the origin story, so to speak, of two of the characters, twin sisters Jack and Jill, who went into a magical world evidently inspired by classic horror films (especially Frankenstein and Dracula). Book 3 (Beneath the Sugar Sky) returns to the Home and the characters there, as they embark on a quest that takes them into a world built of candy and sugar. Book 4 (In an Absent Dream) is the origin story of Lundy, who goes to a Goblin Market. I haven’t read Book 5 (Come Tumbling Down) yet, but it appears to pick up the story of the Home again, and of Jack and Jill. Book 6 (Across the Green Grass Fields) will be another prequel.
I’m excited to read Book 5, but then I’ll have to actually wait for more! These are brief but incredibly rich books, and I think I read each one in only a day or two. They’re engaging and exciting and fascinating. And after the first one, they’ve mostly been less gruesome too.
I highly, highly recommend these books – when I come to do my reading round-up “Best of” post at the end of the year, they’re pretty much a lock for Best New Series!