Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and its sequels have been described as “Harry Potter for grownups.” Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire, might similarly be described as “The Chronicles of Narnia for grownups.” It features a school for children who, like the Pevensies, went through doorways into other worlds. But the focus of the story isn’t on the childrens’ adventures in those other worlds; it’s on what happened to them after they got back. Their belief in the reality of those realms didn’t fade as they grew older, and so their parents came to believe that they were suffering from a psychiatric disorder. The school masquerades as a mental health facility; what it truly is, is a place where children who’ve been to otherworldly realms can be surrounded by people who understand and believe them.
The book is short (almost a novella) and a fast read; despite that, it takes the time to present strong world-building and characterization. The worlds that the main characters have been to are wildly different, and some of the returnees have mapped out a system of categorization for these worlds. The story also presents an intriguing chicken-and-egg dilemma: are particular children drawn to certain realms because of their personalities and traits, or are their personalities shaped by the dimensions they visit?
The story has a strong emotional core as well. Many of the characters felt more at home in the alternate worlds than they do in the “real” one, and McGuire writes poignantly about their longing for those other places and their frustration at not being believed about their experiences there.
This is all further complicated when one of the students is murdered. The mystery aspect of the plot is well-written for the most part, although I did find the final confrontation with the murderer to be a bit anticlimactic. The characters certainly faced challenges in identifying and tracking down the murderer, but they seemed to apprehend the perpetrator too easily.
This is the first book in a planned Wayward Children duology. The second book, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, is due to be published in June 2017, and I definitely plan to read it.