Has a premise ever hooked you so much that you just had to read that book? Something so abnormal and unheard of that provides the best insights never delved into before?
I found that book. Hear me out:
What happens when you return from Wonderland? Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children cares for children who have returned from other worlds, offering them education and therapy to help them return to their normal lives. Nancy is the newest student, having returned from an Underworld and having her entire being changed as a result. And she learns she isn’t the only one to experience this. But with her arrival death is close behind, and now the school must find the source of the untimely deaths before the school is shut down.
Instantly this premise charmed me, more so as a writer of a portal fantasy series and a fan of The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland and the like. The whimsy of these worlds and the entrance and exit out of these portals overshadow what happens when these children return. How does one begin to explain the madness they saw and how they were changed by it? This all dealing with mental health surrounding getting evicted from a place you once belonged was a very interesting insight and the main dealings with the introduction of this world.
The characters were quite unrealistic, but that was the point. Abnormal worlds affected their personalities and turned them all mad, and each wound up mad in a different way. The worldbuilding even had systems for it. This felt like a mixed bag at times, because while these characters were unlike anything I’d ever seen their quirks overshadowed their depth at times. In fairness, it is very difficult to balance the two to the extent that is required for this book.
To combat the complexities of these characters, the simple plot of a murder mystery really helped to balance things out. It was a genuine shock to me in a very sensible way. The stakes were solid within this plot and left me constantly guessing who would die next or who was behind it – was it magic or mundane? This made for a very engaging story.
The ending was not something I was fond of however because of how disconnected things were. The ending was only partly solved by our main character Nancy, and the lesson she wound up learning to get her perfect ending was disjointed from the main plot. For things that were so promising to start with and something really compelling, this really brought it down for me.
Every Heart A Doorway gets a score of 4/5. Fairytales don’t end in the nicest ways once you look beyond the pages.