This was my second time reading this, and I loved it even more than the first time. Seanan McGuire created something magical with this novella. I’m not one to judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what attracted me to this book about a year ago. A random door in the middle of a forest is the stuff of daydreams, and I had to see if the story inside was as captivating as the cover. It was. Everyone who has every felt like they didn’t fit should read this book. It’s a love letter to dreamers and outcasts, and a declaration that everyone should have the freedom to be exactly who they are, without worrying about the disapproval of others.
“This world is unforgiving and cruel to those it judges as even the slightest bit outside the norm. If anyone should be kind, understanding, accepting, loving to their fellow outcasts, it’s you. All of you. You are the guardians of the secrets of the universe, beloved of worlds that most will never dream of, much less see … can’t you see where you owe it to yourselves to be kind? To care for one another? No one outside this room will ever understand what you’ve been through the way the people around you right now understand. This is not your home. I know that better than most. But this is your way station and your sanctuary, and you will treat those around you with respect.”
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children isn’t what parents and guardians are led to believe. The children accepted to the school have one thing in common: they all claim to have visited another world through a doorway that no one else can see, a world that is far more their home than the reality in which they were born. Each child has come back from their “adventure” radically changed, and parents expect Eleanor West and her staff to fix them. However, Eleanor has no intention of “fixing” these children, because she doesn’t believe them to be broken. She had her own door, you see, so she understands that every single one of them is telling the truth. Her school was created to give them a safe place and sense of belonging until they can find their doors again.
“‘Real’ is a four-letter word, and I’ll thank you to use it as little as possible while you live under my roof.”
I have never come across a better metaphor to explain outcasts than McGuire’s use of doorways to other worlds, and their habit of spitting out their occupants and disappearing, leaving their travelers scrambling about in a world that no longer fits them. There were worlds of rainbows and unicorns, of warring faeries and goblins, of monsters and science, of dancing skeletons and of death as a refuge. And there were kids who found their homes in each of these, and yearned for nothing more than to return. In these worlds they found their true identities, and the world they returned to cannot comprehend them, and thus cannot accept them.
Their love wanted to fix her, and refused to see that she wasn’t broken.
There were some wonderful characters here. Nancy, recently returned from the Halls of the Dead, and desperate to return, is our main protagonist, if there is one. Kade, tailor extraordinaire, was cast out of a fairy realm, and returned altered in ways that his parents refuse to see, much less accept. Christopher is biding his time until he can return to his realm and marry the Skeleton Girl. Jack and Jill, identical twins, have been cast out of the Moors, a realm of logical monsters. In the world they loved and were forced to leave, Jack was an apprentice to a mad scientist, and she’s probably my favorite character. Behold the sass:
“You must be a lot of fun at parties,” said Christopher.
Jack smirked. “It depends on the kind of party. If there are shovels involved, I am the life, death, and resurrection of the place.”
There is such depth to this story. What makes us strange makes us special, even if those differences makes the rest of the world uncomfortable. Never try to suppress who you truly are, no matter how ill-at-ease it makes everyone else. Be you. And McGuire expressed such a hopeful view of death in this story. Such as: “Death is precious. That didn’t change the fact that life was limited.” I think that’s a lovely outlook. Some might find this book bleak. I found it hopeful. It is an ode to misfits, and I highly recommend it.
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.