Review: Wayward Children Series by Seanan McGuire

For the first few months of the new year, I was averaging eight books a month. April hit a complete wall for me, and every single book I picked up just wasn’t it. I tried reading historical fiction, young adult contemporary, thriller, science fiction, retellings. I tried getting lost in overwhelming 800-page stories and I tried to burn through a measly novella just to get somewhat back on track with my book goal for the year. Nothing helped.

(I may or may not have also collectively gotten sucked into the new Story of Seasons game, the newest season of Diablo 3, or binge-watched 90-Day Fiance for the first time, but I digress)

And then, on a complete whim, I decided to pick up Every Heart a Doorway because so many of my friends had given it high reviews. It’s a quick-paced novella so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot. Who knew a young-adult fantasy series, arguably my least-favorite genre combination, was exactly what I needed.

There are seven books in the series right now, including an even smaller novella that fits snugly between books four and five, which I opted out of. Since these are all short stories, only one of them over the 200-page mark, I decided to lump them into one review. I’ll keep this as spoiler-free as possible, because I truly believe discovering these stories on your own is the best way to fall in love with them.

“I suppose I owe you the truth,” she said. “After all, I’ve come to ask for your help. But I warn you, this isn’t a tale for the faint of heart. It is a story of murder, and betrayal, and sisterly love turned sour.”

“So it’s a Tuesday,” said Sumi. “We can take it.”

Every Heart a Doorway – 4/5 stars
This book is such a beautiful introduction to the world, where children can pass through doors to other worlds that truly feel like home. When they return to the “real world,” none of their families believe their experiences, and the kids are sent to a boarding school to get help. The truth is that all the students at the school have been through their own doors, and together they learn to heal from the constant ache of finding their door again.

To establish a bit of plot, there seems to be a murderer among the group, as girls at the school are rapidly being killed. Nancy, the main character and newcomer to the school, teams up with her new friends to solve the mystery. This part of the story was okay, and I think it might have been too dry of a story without some kind of action, but since this is a novella it felt too short to really build any tension or have me truly love any characters. Having read the rest of the series, I wish there had been more focus and depth on the time Nancy spent in her own doorway. It was brought up multiple times, but never as thoroughly as I would have enjoyed, since the exploration of the doors and the worldbuilding is the best part of this series.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones – 5/5 stars
The second novella gives us the back story on two characters from the first book, Jack and Jill, twins with a severed relationship who fell into the same doorway together. Jack and Jill weren’t my favorite characters in the first book, but I did find them interesting. This book completely changed my mind on them. I absolutely adored them and found their story heartbreaking. I do love a good backstory more than anything, but what really drove home the five-star rating for me was the gorgeous prose.

Beneath the Sugar Sky – 3/5 stars
This book introduces us to some new characters with the help of familiar faces, and it was great to see them band together once more. What I love about this series is the creativity of the worlds, and this is no exception. There’s oceans of soda, a baker who rules the world, gumdrops and licorice galore. It’s a fun and upbeat world despite the plot tension, which was a refreshing change. However, once again, I felt that this book was too short and moved too quickly to get attached to the new characters.

In An Absent Dream – 4/5 stars
This is a prequel to the series and follows Lundy, an instructor at the school, when she was a child and fell through her door for the first time. This was one of the most interesting stories because the world is so creative and genius, and it emphasized the struggle of living in both worlds and claiming one to call home. I also saw a lot of myself in young Lundy, which drew me to her and made me wonder how similar my own world would have been to hers.

Come Tumbling Down – 5/5 stars
Jack and Jill stole a piece of my heart with DAtSaB, and while others might have felt this was an unnecessary addition to the series when there are so many other unique characters out there with their own stories, Come Tumbling Down felt like home to me. I’ll always love the relationship between the twins and their dark, twisted world. Novellas are difficult because they can’t give us as much resolution as we’d sometimes prefer, so this second story of Jack and Jill answered a lot of questions and gave us the closure we needed. I adored the banter between all the characters, and this is the first book in the series where I felt that the group was truly working as one, looking out for one another and willing to make sacrifices to help each other.

Across the Green Grass Fields – 2.5/5 stars
While I loved the message and inclusivity of this book, it was my least favorite in the series. What’s missing for me is the connection between this story and all the others. Reagan is a brand new character who falls into a new world, and there’s no familiarity there. None of the old characters make an appearance, which makes for a lonely experience. I also simply am not interested in horses, so I felt it was harder to believe in the magic of this world. This is also the slowest in the series plot-wise, and it took me the longest to read because I felt that so little was happening for so long.

I usually don’t enjoy young adult series, but I couldn’t get enough of these stories. The prose is gorgeous, and the writing often bounces from funny and witty to serious. I got some intense Lemony Snicket vibes but for an older audience. The series also touches on so many important issues. One character, who struggles with her body image and has always felt insecure and been made fun of for her weight, simply becomes a mermaid, where her weight is no longer an issue. Another character is lured into their world as a little girl, and realizes they’re actually a boy, something the other characters don’t even blink an eye at.

A third character struggles with learning she’s intersex and discovers a world where no one judges her for that. Other characters have same-sex relationships, with girls who are curvy, who have scars, who aren’t a stereotype. The LGBT representation here is impressive, to put it simply, and the best part is that it doesn’t need to be the driving plot of the stories to make such an impact.

The Wayward Children series is always going to hold a special place in my heart. As a teenager and young adult, I reread the Harry Potter series so many times I lost count. It was my comfort-read, it was what got me out of any reading slump. It was a world I so easily fell right back into, immediately sucked into the magic of fiction. These books might be small in stature, but they make up for it in so many ways, and I can easily see myself falling into them any time. That’s the thing about books; they’ll always be there when we need them.

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