Life after Wonderland...

What was life like for Alice when she returned from her adventure down the rabbit hole? That's the main theme that EVERY HEART A DOORWAY explores. I first heard about this short novel from the Booktube SFF Readalongs on Goodreads. I went in without knowing much about it, but did find the concept intriguing.

4/5 This quick read does a nice job of exploring it's core concepts though the more fantastical elements are not as prominent as they should have been and I have mixed feelings about the ending. Overall, though this was a fun and enjoyable read.

The story primarily follows Nancy, a girl who's just returned from a world of darkness and death, but also one of magic and beauty. She finds herself at a boarding school, thinking that it is meant for treating youths with mental illnesses when it's actually a school meant to service kids who made trips into fantastical worlds and have been returned to their own world for one reason or another. In Nancy's case, she served the Lord of the Dead and loved to be in his court. Before she could pursue further aspirations within it, he told her she would need to prove her dedication and loyalty to him in her own world. She meets other students and learns about all of the different types of worlds a young person could wander into. Some are candy-colored whimsical wonderlands, some are highly ordered fairy lands, and a few are dark underworlds. It was a lot of fun to see her learn to interact with others having both very similar yet also different experiences as her. The cast is pretty varied and extremely weird. The author does a nice job of conveying all the different types of trauma that these characters have experienced while also offering valid reasons for why they would want to return to whichever magical realm they'd wandered into. Even though the story is pretty short, I felt like I got to know them all pretty well thanks to how wonderfully their distinct quirks are written. The one thing that did bother me a little is that I had a hard time picturing what one of the characters looked like. At one point in the story I thought he was a boy mistaken for a girl at childhood, but then it sounded more like he might actually be transgender. The SJWs of the world would probably jump down my throat saying it shouldn't matter, but I'm a very visual person so I found my inability to reliably picture his appearance to be distracting.

This world is all about travelling to unknown lands, but the story itself is primarily set in the mundane world that we all call home. While this fits nicely into the overall theme of the narrative, it's also a shame that the more fantastic realms are never really explored. What little descriptions that are provided of these more magical places is all done well and it honestly was impressive how the author could paint so clear a picture with so few words, but I still couldn't help but want to explore this aspect of the universe a little more or at least that more of the mystical crossed over into the mundane. All that said, the school in which most of the action takes place is a pretty interesting location. It reminded me a little bit of Xavier's School for Extraordinary Children from the X-MEN franchise. There's science equipment in the basement, books in the attic, an assortment of classrooms, and even a large tree in the yard. The charm of this place does help make up for the lack of magical worlds that are explored and the fact that the students bring a little bit of those worlds back with them is also cool. Nancy has her ability to become eerily still, one character can animate bones with a flute only audible to the dead, and another brings her scientific prowess back with her. This idea that the normal world will never again be wholly normal for these people was a neat concept to explore and I liked how it created the perception that even the "normal" world isn't quite as dull as you'd expect. 

There's a certain whimsy that marks the style of the writing. It helps keep even some of the darker contents feeling a little more lighthearted. That said, there are some very dark places that this story goes to. Sex and sexuality, death, secrets, abandonment, and rejection are all explored in great detail and the author doesn't really pull any punches. About a third of the way through the story, students start dying at the hand of one very sadistic murderer. This gives a little more focus to the narrative, but fortunately it doesn't fall into the classic who-done-it formula. The mystery just kind of unravels itself as the characters reactively deal with the consequences of the murders rather than proactively trying to solve them. I thought it was a pretty interesting approach to a murder mystery and I liked that I was actually surprised by the outcome of who the killer turned out to be. I thought for sure it was going to be one character for the majority of the book, lamenting in being able to predict the outcome so early on, only to have my theory be crushed. In hindsight, there were clues which might have tipped me off and that made the final reveal all the more satisfying. It was also great how the killers motivations tied back to some of the central themes of the story itself. Overall, I think this is a story that really earns its darkness and makes good use of it to craft a compelling ending. All of that said, I did hope that the resolution would take a different direction than it did, but I think there will be plenty of people who actually do enjoy how Nancy's story ends. 

This is one of those rare reads that probably won't totally blow your mind, but it will feel delightfully original in the ways that matter. There are a few pretty interesting concepts which get explored, some quirky characters to fall for, and a good murder mystery that swoops in to help carry the story forward to the end. If you're looking for a quick read that's a little different from what you'd normally find in the science fiction and fantasy genres, then this one is definitely worth a look.

If you're looking for more thoughts and opinions on this work, you can always check it out on Goodreads.


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