The “kids at boarding school” trope is not one that the Harry Potter books invented, although they did revitalize it for another generation or two of young readers. As such, most of these stories involve a new resident, for whom the school serves as a type of liminal space. I’ve always enjoyed these types of books because I’ve never gone to boarding school, and the thought of being able to wander around at night getting into all sorts of adventures while the responsible adults are sleeping sounds like a good time to me.
So it’s no surprise that this book eventually found me.
Eleanor West runs a boarding school for children who have disappeared—and then returned. Nancy was one of those children. She arrives at school dressed completely in black (much to her parents’ chagrin), not knowing what to expect. Nancy’s parents have deposited her here because they want the old Nancy back, the Nancy they had before she fell through a doorway into an Underworld, a realm of darkness and stillness where she danced with the Lord of the Dead.
It’s a world Nancy spent years in, although her parents assured her that she was gone only a few months, and to which she would very much like to return. It’s also a world her parents would very much like her to forget.
As it turns out, all the students at this school have had a similar experience, although some of them have fallen into Nonsense worlds or Logic worlds, where Virtue and Wickedness are not quite what they seem to be. And, notably, almost all of the students are girls. As Lundy the therapist explains to Nancy:
[Boys] are too loud, on the whole, to be easily misplaced or overlooked.…it protects them from the doors, keeps them safe at home…we \spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. (59)
While Nancy’s parents (and no doubt the parents of most of the rest of the students) would like her to forget the world she fell into, the purpose of Eleanor West’s school is not forgetting. As Lundy tells Nancy, “We don’t teach you how to dwell. We also don’t teach you how to forget. We teach you how to move on.” (61)
Nancy meets other students at the school, starting with her roommate Sumi, who went to a Nonsense world and would love to go back, but knows that she can’t. There is also Jack (short for Jacqueline) and her sister Jill who spent years in a High Logic world. Finally, there is Kade, who spent three years in a Fairy Land (and killing a Goblin King with his sword while there), a place with “rules on rules on rules” and who was thrown out simply for being who he truly is.
Nancy barely has time to begin settling in before a murder takes place. As the newest student, she is suspected by many of her fellow students. But before she can prove her innocence, another murder happens. And then another.
Will Nancy come to terms with her life in the present world before the murderer is caught, or comes after her? Or will she be able to slip back to her Underworld, which she, like the other students at the school, considers to be her real home, before she becomes a victim herself?
McGuire, Seanan. Every Heart a Doorway. New York: Tor, 2016. Book. This is additional text. See if it is being published.
Walden Pond Books. The Best Boarding School Fiction. : bookshop.org, 2023. web.
Blanchfield, Theodora. The Psychology Behind Liminal Space: A Transitional Place or Time That Can Feel Unsettling. : verywellmind.com, 2023. web.
Walden Pond Books, A. “The Best Boarding School Fiction.” Bookshop.Org, 2023, bookshop.org/lists/the-best-boarding-school-fiction.