Written by: Seanan McGuire
Hardcover: 173 pages
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Young Adult/Series
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.
“You're nobody's rainbow. You're nobody's princess. You're nobody's doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”
Whatever happened to the children who fell down the well or the rabbit hole, those who escaped through a wardrobe or walked through a doorway? What happens when they come back to this world? It’s an intriguing thought. As is what would my doorway be if I found it? Where would it take me? What would it be like? Would I ever want to come back? Or are doorways just for children?
Nancy walked through a door once and found a home she did not realize she had. She lived a life of silence and stood as still as a marble statue. But she was loved. She was wanted. She was accepted for who she was. Her liege, The Lord of the Undead, called to her very soul. But then she came back and couldn’t find her door again.
She is not the same young woman her parents thought she was. No one believes where she has been. This world is the one she is supposed to belong to. This loud world full of colors and chaos, loud and bright, and always moving. No one understands that Nancy likes the quiet, the darkness, and the stillness. There, in her real home, she felt like she was in control. There, she felt like she could finally be herself and be loved for it.
Nancy’s parents think that they are helping her overcome the trauma of her recent disappearance and kidnapping by sending her to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Eleanor knows the sadness and loss that Nancy is feeling because she had a door once too. Here, at her home, they are believed. Nancy is not alone. There are other kids like her, one who entered mysterious and magical worlds and came back.
Soon after Nancy arrives students begin dying. Who is killing the students and why? And will Nancy ever find her door again?
Things I liked: “For us, places we went were home. We didn't care if they were good or evil or neutral or what. We cared about the fact that for the first time, we didn't have to pretend to be something we weren't. We just got to be. That made all the difference in the world.”
Imagine if you traveled to a world that was nonsensical or magical, one that was dark or virtuous, perhaps twisted or light. It was an amazing place, one where you felt like you belonged. Then one day you were cast out. Maybe you became too old, too unsure, too other, or perhaps your benefactors want to make sure that this world is the one you want forever. You still are not there. The return to this world is gut wrenching, traumatic, and undeniably painful. You have lost something. You will never stop looking. You want so desperately to go back, to feel whole again. It’s hard to live in this world when you know another one is out there. One that you called home. One where you finally felt like you belonged. Not everyone is allowed to go back. For some, their door will never open again. For some, if they are lucky they might find their door again on a quiet night. Holy cow is that a premise. How can that not just hit you in the feels.
Like I said I love the premise. I also love that is quite often little girls or girls in general that are taken. This quote sums it up pretty perfectly, “Because ‘boys will be boys’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Lundy. “They’re too loud, on the whole, to be easily misplaced or overlooked; when they disappear from the home, parents send search parties to dredge them out of swamps and drag them away from frog ponds. It’s not innate. It’s learned. But it protects them from the doors, keeps them safe at home. Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.”
Obviously the whole thing is just heartbreaking because these kids were cast out of a place where they felt acceptance. Now they are forced back into a world that doesn’t understand them, outcasts yet again. Sure I can see the parallels between childhood and adulthood, the loss of innocence and imagination. Which is why I love this concept so so much.
This book tries to tackle a lot of things as well. You have morality, mental health, and the desire to feel accepted for who and what you are. The whodunit feels tacked on and a bit forced. Again, I will get to that in a bit.
I will say that it is the small things that bring the world to life just as Toby’s world relies on the small things (like how magic smells). Through the spattering of color, the creak of a door, the smell of something just beyond reach, or the sound of an empty classroom bring it all to life. This is what makes Seanan’s writing so great for me. I get transported, which is exactly what I want when I read a book.
The characters are also great in this book if not fully realized which is one of the small gripes I have which I will get to later. But you have to love the diversity Seanan was trying to achieve in her characters and her world. Nancy is asexual and Kade is transgender. Where Nancy is reserved and quiet, her roommate Sumi is loud and energetic. Lundy the school’s therapist looks like a child because her world made her age backward in this one. Eleanor’s world was one of nonsense while another student’s was one of rainbows.
Things I didn’t like so much: My biggest gripe is how selfish these kids are. Sure some of them have shitty parents. Some of them have loving parents, parents who thought they had lost their children. Parents who grieved and some who never stopped hoping that they would come back, that they would be returned from wherever and whomever had taken them. There are parents and families who don’t understand, but they want to. They don’t know what their children went through. They weren’t there. They did not experience it. It doesn’t mean that they don’t love their children. They are trying to help in the only ways that they know how. And yet…
Their kids don’t seem to care. Seriously, what about the parents, the families, the friends, the siblings? Are these characters so self-absorbed that they matter not? Selfish. So selfish. Maybe I would feel better if they all came from horrible homes, they were all only children, and no one really was changed by their disappearance and reappearance.
I also felt like the entire story was rushed. It was as if she was trying to write a full length novel but realized she only had 170 pages to do it. I know what Seanan was trying to do or at least I think I do, but I felt like it should be more than just 173 pages. I’m not sure why it was decided that it should only be a novella. I guess I was wanted more. I wanted to understand and learn more about high logic worlds and high wicked ones. I wanted to learn about how each of these characters played a part in those worlds. I wanted to know how those worlds changed them forevermore.
Like I said the concept is amazing, the execution not as much. Such as its not really a crime thriller or mystery. Or at least a believable one. Maybe it was because I never was connected to any of the characters enough to mourn their loss, to feel a sense of worry on who might be next. Plus Eleanor’s solution for what to do when there is a serial killer on campus? It’s not call the cops or do anything resembling any sort of responsibility for her charges. Its suggest that everyone travels around in threes? Sigh.
Finally I felt like the diversity was a bit forced at times. For example, when Kade is introduced as transgender. It felt weird and a little forced. Almost a let me get this out of the way instead of making it feel natural and making Kade more fully developed and realized. It didn’t feel like a natural reveal. And while yes we are a diverse little human world, there was so much inclusion that it felt heavy handed. Sure, maybe it is because most lit out there is so far from diverse that when you feel like you actually have a splice of real life that it just makes things feel off. I don’t know. Again, one of those loved it and hated it things.
This really is such an odd story. Its full of magic, loss, love, and anger. But it is real and beautiful in its own way. This little novella was also very hard to review for me. I love Seanan to little bitty pieces and enjoy her creations. But this novella had some great highs, but some low lows for me. I wanted there to be more. I expected just a little bit more. It’s not a bad book by any means. I just wanted more.
Buy or Borrow: Buy. Despite my gripes, I still enjoyed it and will be keeping it on my shelves.
Part of: Series
Also Recommended: For more Seanan goodness please read her Toby Daye series beginning with Rosemary and Rue. Another young adult book that is has that eerie beautifulness is Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick. You might also like Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.
3 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks