It takes a lot for a story to make me tear up. Any story – whether it be a book, a TV show, a movie – really needs to punch me in the face with emotions if I’m going to shed a tear.
I can only think of two times where real, human emotions got the better of me in stories: the death of Dobby in the Harry Potter films, where I might have teared up simply because of all my friends sobbing around me; and the song “For Good” in Broadway’s “Wicked,” because ladies who love each other and changed each other’s lives will get to me every time. (Continuously tearing up at this song is the reason I can no longer listen to it in the car.)
I didn’t think I would get emotional enough to shed tears when I started reading Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway – and yet, here we are.
What happens to the children who fall into portal fantasies, only to be thrown out of their newfound universe? In Every Heart A Doorway, those who wish to return to their fantastical homes end up at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. When somebody begins to murder the children and steal treasured pieces of them, it’s up to a small group of students to hunt down the killer or risk losing their home forever.
Every Heart A Doorway didn’t make me cry because of the story itself. This beautiful bite-sized book showcases the best of all the world I’ve seen in McGuire’s work (having, until now, only read her short stories). The premise is delightful, the worldbuilding fascinating, and each of the characters distinct and memorable in their own right.
No, I cried because Nancy – our leading lady, newly returned to our world from the Halls of the Dead – is asexual.
And so am I.
Asexuality isn’t something you see often in stories. Any story – on stage, on screen, in a book. While I know of other novels that have asexual characters and look forward to reading them – R.J. Anderson’s Quicksilver, for example, or Sherwood Smith’s Banner of the Damned – this was the first time I encountered an explicit asexual character whose sexuality influenced her ideas and interactions with the world without ever being the story.
I didn’t expect that sort of open, honest representation in exactly the kind of story that I adore.
Like everything, asexuality works on a spectrum. Nancy’s asexuality aligned almost perfectly to my own. Here was a girl who loved the fantastical world she’d been thrown into and only wanted to return; here was a girl who didn’t mind flirting as a social construct, but would prefer to avoid most of the things that come after, thank you very much; here was a girl who knew the difference between aromantic and asexual, who “wanted to feel [a partner’s] hand against her skin, to know that [their] presence was absolute and focused entirely on her” without it turning into a sexual encounter.
Nancy’s asexuality didn’t change the story. It only influenced it, tweaked it in little ways – let her see the relationships between other characters a little more clearly, or muddled her relationships with others when she felt forced to justify herself without ever being prompted. It added to the reasons she so loved the Halls of the Dead – a place where there was still passion and desire, but where the accusation of being a “cold fish” was never hurled at her.
For the first time, if somebody asks me about my asexuality, I can hand them a book and go, Here. This explains it.
It also helps that it’s a damn good book, worth reading alone for the inventive world and fascinating cast of characters.
But for me, there will now always be a special place in my heart – and on my shelves – for Nancy and Every Heart A Doorway, for letting me see myself without having to hunt through the text to try to find it.
For that, I cannot love Every Heart A Doorway enough.