I know I promised some hot Jane Austen content. I planned for this focus because I’m currently working my way through a history of five female abstract impressionist painters that, while mesmerizing, is a 700-page beast of a book. But last weekend I took a break from the behemoth because a slim, YA fantasy needed to go back to the library and I figured it warranted the pause. Readers, it did.
Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway plays in a familiar sandbox, in this case, a school for troubled adolescents with a magical connection. But in the world of the novel, the teens don’t fit because they have all been sucked into alternative worlds where they felt perfectly understood and welcomed, only to be spit back out again into our world. (Think of a multiverse of Narnias.) For example, the main protagonist, Nancy, disappeared into an underworld where she served the Lord of the Dead and learned to spend vast stretches of time standing still as a statue. Now back in our world, Nancy shies away from sunlight, bright colors, and the rapid pace of existence. On the other hand, Nancy’s roommate Sumi went to a “High Nonsense” candyland style world where she always had use for her restless hands, preoccupied with taffy-pulling and what-not. Not only does McGuire recast problem children in a sympathetic life, she generates an empathy for teens who don’t feel like they fit that makes this a great read for the teens themselves. It’s also a doorways book, which you know is my jam.
The novel also made me realize a new addition to my “reading wheelhouse“: books that offer delicious vignettes, micro stories-within-stories, or tantalizing glimpses into other worlds. Think Erin Morgenstern’s novels The Night Circus and The Starless Sea. Think Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January. Even think the poet Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, a heartfelt, sensuous tasting-menu of an essay collection. These books pack even more stories into the story itself yet refuse the tedious obligation to explain everything.
Perhaps the pleasure of these books comes from simple greediness. Like a tapas dinner, I (and the author) get to have a bit of a whole bunch of wonderful, interesting things. But I also think there’s creative stimulation in this structure, the author giving a set-up or a premise or an opening and letting the reader fill in the rest with her own experience, ideas, and sense of place and promise. In any case, I heartily recommend Every Heart a Doorway and look forward to more “tantalizing taste books”!