How To Break A Closed Heart: Seanan McGuire’s “Every Heart a Doorway”

Posted on | September 3, 2017

This isn’t a book review of Seanan McGuire’s beautiful book Every Heart a Doorway. I can’t do the book justice. You’ll just have to read it. You have to.

The book is about Eleanor West’s Home For Wayward Children, a school for children whose parents are at their wits’ ends, because their children seem irredeemably mad. Many of the parents experienced losing the child: for a day, a week, even years. For some, the child never seemed lost. But in all cases, the child came to them changed; each child had experienced something, witnessed something. In McGuire’s book, there are worlds next door to ours: worlds of Logic or Nonsense, Virtue of Wickedness, Life or Death, and some worlds have traces of Whimsy or Timelessness. Each child stepped through a doorway and experienced… something. And then, one fateful day, they ended up back here. In some cases, it was because they’d grown, and the world had sent them back here to "be sure." In others, fate or trouble in their world forced them back into ours.

Eleanor herself went through a doorway and lived in a world of High Nonsense until the day came when she was too old to tolerate nonsense. Her heart broken by her world’s rejection, she founded the school for other children like her. Nancy, the protagonist, came from a world of Logic and Death, with some hints of Wickedness, and her innate nature made her a perfect fit, and someday she hopes to go back. In the meantime, she lives in our world, hot, fast, and noisy, and she hates it.

I won’t tell you more about the plot. The characters are what’s important here: Nancy, who loves stillness and quiet; Jack, the mad scientist; Kade, the boy who loves his world but never wants to go back; Sumi, the nonsense girl who never stops moving her hands; Lundy, the woman living backwards; Christopher, the boy who loves skeletons.

I laughed a lot while reading this book. I winced a couple of times, and cheered more than once. But mostly, I cried. I cried a lot. I had to fight tears to write this. Because my heart broke when I realized that I was one of the people who’ll never go back.

When I started writing The Journal Entries, I was one of those kids: the ones who didn’t understand the emotional waters of high school, who didn’t get what was going on, who didn’t feel like this was my place. I went somewhere else, and the experience was a lot like what McGuire described: I had absorbed enough of the world, my world, that I could find my door. The Journal Entries is many things: high Logic, high Life, only mildly Wicked, capable of Whimsy. It was where I could be me, and more importantly, where every story was about me figuring out something about me, about who I was or who I wanted to be. The Journal Entries started out as an expedition through the world I experienced, not a world of going in through any doors, but of coming out of many doors, out of closets, out of wardrobes, out of cages.

And then I started to write about other people. I started to care what other people thought about my stories. I started to treat my Mary Sue character (and I’ve learned to never, ever diss Mary Sue characters) as something other than a shield, the One Who Suffered the Lesson Learned, the one who mapped out what it meant to be me. I started to treat Kennet as a character. Material. Raw ore from which amusing and arousing stories could be told. Not people. Not friends I talk to once in a while. Not even dreams I walk through, touch, hold, smell, taste.

Once upon a time, my stories were about me, and the world, and the hard, hard barrier between us. I liked being on the other side. I’ll still write stories, and still hope to amuse and arouse and even educate. My heart is still a doorway, but today, at thrice Nancy’s age, all I can do these days is press my ear against it and hear the joy on the other side.

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