bironic: Neil Perry gazing out a window at night (Default)
[personal profile] bironic
I finished Every Heart a Doorway (previous post) and... hm.

Reviewing the story from a personal/subjective perspective, rather than formally assessing its structure and so forth:

I wanted a more ambiguous ending.

As someone who knows what it's like to get drawn into another world and wish I could live in it, like many of you and assumedly many of this book's readers, I empathized with Nancy's yearning to return to the Land of the Dead. At first, I wanted her to be able to go back. But as the story progressed and McGuire made me care about her, I decided I wanted her to be happy, and it mattered less whether that meant staying or returning. Then we get all this material about how Nancy develops friendships and starts to care about the fate of the school and how she could see herself helping future generations of kids with their trauma, perhaps in ace-romantic partnership with Kade -- and she throws it all away when the door reappears.

On one level: What lesson does that teach us poor reality-dwellers? That we can't be happy as we grow up unless we can literally find a way into the books/movies/shows we love(d)?

I wish that her internal conflicts had been developed more and that we'd ended on her looking at the door and trying to decide what to do.

This book was supposedly in part about adolescence -- about changing and growing -- about losing something from childhood, and either mourning that or gaining something new in coming of age. I wish there'd been more about the stillness slipping from her grasp; maybe more about the doorways as youthful imagination or about the returns to reality as having to 'put away childish things' (which I suppose makes the actual ending a refutation of the idea that adults shouldn't enjoy immersive fantasy). I dunno: something, because the conclusion didn't feel as relieving as it ought to, but instead circular. As it is, it's more like the coming-of-age arcs happened before the story even started -- since the worlds the kids were drawn to helped them discover and grow into their truest selves -- and then what's left to tell? Maybe if the school had been for (pre)teens who didn't fit in at home or in the world at large and were training to find and make it through the doorway to the land that best suited them?

(The title of the book also made me think there was going to be some twist to the murder plot where the key to traveling lay somehow in the physical heart.)

That said, I did still enjoy the story. It was an easy read, especially after a nonfiction book I'd just inched through for professional stuff, and despite its flaws, such as the obvious/cardboard villain-y culprit and the missed opportunities for deeper character development and debate (such as the moral hierarchy of which kids ended up in which worlds), there were many parts that worked for me.

Date: Apr. 28th, 2017 01:09 am (UTC)
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
From: [personal profile] sholio
To be honest, I've never read this because of EXACTLY the thing you discuss with the ending. I wasn't 100% sure about it 'til reading your review that it actually does end that way, but that basically confirms everything that had made me stay away from the book. I would have been all over a book that was about struggling with the disillusionment of losing your fantasy world and learning how to deal with a flawed life here (the story of Susan from Narnia, basically), but everything I've seen in the book's advertising suggested to me that it was going to end up being the exact opposite of what I want, and yeppppp.

... I think the big thing is that I simply can't relate to the book's central conceit; even when I was a kid, I never had the feeling which apparently, I gather from the way other people have reacted to the book, that is evidently common, that children are losing something vital if they can't go back to their fantasy portal world as adults. I always found fantasy worlds fun to visit but not places I wanted to live in. I mean, not that anyone is wrong to feel this way; it's just that the whole concept of "children have to give up magic to become adults, and this is bad" was something that had never even occurred to me as a possible reading of that trope, until talking to other fantasy readers as an adult. I think it's mainly that to me, fantasy lands full of talking animals, where the rules were all different, were something that I found much more terrifying and uncertain than the real world, and as much as I loved reading fantasy, I also preferred the devil I knew to the even worse devil I didn't. So I'm obviously not the target audience for the book -- I'm probably more like the character mentioned in the review you linked to who can't go back to her fantasy world because she can't tolerate the high entropy of that world any more.

I do find the reviewer's comment in the review you linked to that 17-18 is too old for YA protagonist kind of puzzling, because I've read tons of YA with characters that age. Maybe they're thinking of middle grade?
Edited Date: Apr. 28th, 2017 01:10 am (UTC)

Date: Apr. 28th, 2017 07:36 am (UTC)
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
From: [personal profile] sholio
maybe part of the problem for them was that because the students had spent years, in relative time, in their fantasy realms, they were much older in mind than body when they returned, so, many of the 17- to 18-year-olds spoke and comported themselves as if they were in their 20s+.

Yeah, I think it was the characters' behavior that was the main thing that was pinging that reviewer as "wrong", but then there's that bit about YA protagonists mostly being 9-14 and I'm like ... ??? Most of the YA I've read is older teens, like about 14-17 usually? I think they might be mixing up MG with YA, or else they are reading very different YA than I'm reading. I also generally find that MG and YA protagonists in general are precocious and act like small adults, so without reading the book, it's hard for me to say how a character might act that would be "too old" for someone in those genres. idk.

I do find the idea of someone who's lived a full life and grown up and then gone back to being 9 years old (or whatever) absolutely fascinating from a writerly standpoint, though. (ETA: Also creepy. And obviously that one's a reaction to Narnia, where it was never really addressed.)

in the story she wanted to go back as much as any of the others, and, in a particularly bleak subplot, was basically biding her time waiting to grow old and senile enough to handle the illogic and go "home."

AAAAAAUGH. Yes, that is bleak! And also hard to wrap my head around ... she's not even going to try to make friends here, and be happy, and look forward to her Nonsense World as a reward for a life well lived, rather than the endpoint to a sad and pointless existence?

Bearing in mind that I haven't actually read the book and I'm just going off things people have said about it, I kinda feel as if, in trying to make one point (that you don't have to give up fantasy as you grow up), McGuire's gone too far to the other extreme and ended up with a concept that is just as bleak and miserable, but in a different way.

It actually makes me think of a certain strain of fundamentalist Christianity, the whole idea that your "real" life is somewhere else and there's no point in learning to live here except to make it more likely that you'll get back there, because your entire life here is just biding your time until you get to your "real" home. Which has always struck me as a terribly depressing way to view your life and the people around you.

.... I guess it does give it a different flavor when there's no tangible proof that there even is a home to go back to, vs. a place you've personally experienced. But I still feel like ... idk. It seems like a very black-and-white, all-or-nothing take on the idea (theme at the expense of character, maybe?). And it reminds me a little bit, too, of disability narratives where the only happy ending is a magic cure, as opposed to learning to live with it.

Which goes back to me being Not The Target Audience for this book, I guess.

the book describes the school where these kids go because they want to return to the worlds they'd wandered into, but also mentions a companion school for those who wanted to forget and reintegrate. So maybe you would have enrolled there and/or enjoyed that story more. :)

Ha, yes, I want to read about THAT school!

I think I'm different from a lot of fantasy readers in that the way I grew up - very isolated in the Alaska bush - was perilous and rather fantasy-ish in its own way. For me, fantasy worlds seemed like they had all the perils and inconveniences of the world I knew (wild beasts trying to kill you, no running water, etc), with the addition of a lot more dangers and minus most of the conveniences.

It's not that I didn't like fantasy. I loved it - reading it and writing it. I loved exploring it in a fantasy kind of way. It's just that I COMPLETELY understood why someone would want to come back from medieval fantasyland to a place with central heating and newspapers. I also think there was a certain amount of not really reading a lot of portal fantasy where the characters couldn't move freely between the worlds. The ones that I remember loving the most as a kid were books for adults - the Amber books, the World of Tiers, a couple of lesser-known series about adult protagonists who accidentally stumble into fantasy worlds like those Terry Brooks ones where the guy answers a wizard ad in the paper - and in most of those, the characters either had the ability to go between worlds at will, or viewed themselves as basically trapped in the fantasy world and were trying to get back to their regular life. I didn't realize until it was pointed out to me as an adult that child characters coming back from adventures in fantasyland and being unable to get back was a Thing. I never noticed that at all when I was that age myself. I just sort of accepted it in something like Narnia as part of the weird and arbitrary rules of the fantasy place, and then read other books where the weird and arbitrary rules were different, so it wasn't something that I noticed as a pattern.
Edited Date: Apr. 28th, 2017 07:40 am (UTC)

Date: Apr. 28th, 2017 11:17 am (UTC)
marginaliana: Buddy the dog carries Bobo the toy (Default)
From: [personal profile] marginaliana
I always found fantasy worlds fun to visit but not places I wanted to live in.

OMG, it's thrilling to me to find someone else who felt like this as a child. I always had a really clear division between 'this is fun to read about' vs. 'this would be fun to do.' And I feel like once I got involved in fandom I have only encountered the people who really did want to live in a fantasy world (or at least thought they did, in childhood).

Date: Apr. 28th, 2017 11:11 pm (UTC)
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
From: [personal profile] sholio
YES EXACTLY. :D Fun to read about vs. fun to do is a perfect way to describe it. I love experiencing fantasy worlds through fictional characters. There is almost nothing I like more! But for me the fun is in watching the characters interact with those worlds; it's not something that, for the most part, I've ever had any desire to do personally, even when I was at the age when it's apparently most common for people to desire that. (Similarly, I've never fantasized about meeting or interacting with fictional characters myself. It's just not a thing that appeals to me. I want to watch them interact with each other instead!)

Date: Apr. 28th, 2017 06:56 am (UTC)
mific: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mific
Yeah - I was able to read it but was underwhelmed overall.
I vastly prefer her novels written as Mira Grant where (kind of) cyberpunk meets zombies, post-apocalypse - partly as there was a ton of humor (which there wasn't in EHAD) and the science worldbuilding was really excellent and well thought through. But you're more into vampire tropes than zombie apocalypse so they might not appeal - they're not Gothic! I found the concepts and characters engaging and the plot riveting - and it's pretty rare for me to warm to het protagonists but her central pairing really got to me. :)


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