Despite my general discomfort with spontaneity and adventure, I love stories about portals to other worlds. I love the idea of opening a door and finding something unexpected on the other side; while I know in my (sadly boring) heart that I’d be far too cautious to actually step through if confronted with one, I love reading and watching stories about people who don’t have my hang-ups.
Sidenote: My favorite sequence in The Secret Garden is the bit where Mary explores all of the unused rooms in Misselthwaite Manor—that’s exactly the sort of adventure that speaks to my Indoor Kid soul.
The portal stories I grew up with—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe—were much more about the adventures than they were about the aftermath. As a kid, that was a question I never really considered: What happened next? How could these children re-integrate into our world after visiting Wonderland or Oz or Narnia?
Enter Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children—No Solicitations, No Visitors, No Quests—a boarding school that caters to children and teenagers who’ve gone through portals, had adventures, and then were somehow catapulted back here.
Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series is an utter delight; it speaks to my heart and my soul and my mind. It works on a character level and a story level and a worldbuilding level—oh, the worldbuilding, *chef’s kiss*. In addition to that, it works as commentary about—and I’d argue, as a conversation with—all of the portal stories that have come before.
It’s about identity, about longing and belonging.
It’s heartbreaking in the traditional meaning of heartbreak, but also because it feels so right and so true that it hurts.
It’s about what it feels like to find your perfect place and then lose it. It’s about the different ways people cope with that experience, and it’s about the importance of interacting with other people who truly understand, because they’ve been through the same thing.
And all of this—I’m still trying to comprehend how McGuire fit so many layers into these three novellas—is still within the context of our own world, right down to the question of why so many more girls go through portals than boys:
“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.”
I blew through all three books—Every Heart a Doorway, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, and Beneath the Sugar Sky—this weekend. While they were originally published for the adult market, they are perfect crossovers, and I’d highly recommend that YA/Teen librarians seriously consider them for their collections—I know that if I’d had access to them in high school, I would have read them again and again and again and again. As an adult, I’ll be doing that for sure.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.