If you look at my reviews for the Wayward Children novella series, it’s pretty clear that I absolutely adore the stories, and have from the beginning. Reading Every Heart a Doorway changed me, and I’ve read every novella since then, and reread a few of them to boot. Even when they hurt my heart, I love them.
And it’s time to talk about why.
I could say that it’s because there’s positive queer representation, and there is. I could say that McGuire just gets so many things, and has a brilliant way of writing those things, and she does. I could say it’s because the stories are so very creative, and that much is true.
But that’s not why the series resonated with me so intensely, right from the very first one.
That reason is far more personal, and will take a lot longer to explain.
You see, many years ago, I had a dream. In it, I had been taken outside of time. I didn’t fully understand the reason then, and I still don’t now, but somebody in charge of things had decided that I needed to stop existing, and took the steps to make that happen. Not death, nothing like that. More like I had never existed in the first place, my life reduced to nonexistence, everybody I knew losing all their knowledge and memory of me. And yet, I still existing. I had all those memories. I had to go somewhere.
And that somewhere was what I called The Silence.
I called it that because once I arrived at the place where I was going to exist from then on (a huge building, though I don’t remember seeing the outside of it; I remember long white hallways lined with doors, most of them the mini-apartment of somebody else who had never existed), I was handed a schedule, telling me when I could expect to get meals, when it was suggested I sleep, all of that. There was an hour a day when I could interact with others there in a communal space if I chose, but the rest of the time? It was all marked with “silence.”
Nonexistence was a quiet place.
I had my own little room, the place I’d be living from then on. It didn’t have much. A bed. A desk. That was it. But here’s the thing: since The Silence existed outside of time, I could request anything I wanted, from any time, to keep myself quietly occupied during the rest of… my life? Eternity? I wasn’t sure if one died when one had never existed in the first place. If I wanted to read books, from any time past or future, I could request them and read them until my heart’s content. If I wanted to play video games, I could do the same thing. Everything was mine for the asking, so long as I did those things quietly, and by myself. I remember being happy that I could start playing the next Final Fantasy game, without having to wait, because existing outside of time meant that the game already existed somewhere, somewhen, and it was mine for the asking.
And all of this, this silent solitude, felt so comfortable to me that despite a lingering sadness at no longer being able to see friends or family again (and technically speaking, none of them were or had ever been my friends or family anyway, now that I had reached that state of nonexistence), I knew I could be content there for however long I lasted. That while I might sometimes get lonely, I could still see people for short periods if I wanted, or avoid them if I wanted, and I wouldn’t be bothered again by anything except that which I wanted to deal with.
Waking up felt sad and weird, like I had left something of myself behind in The Silence. Being there felt right in ways I have never really been able to express. I tried to tell my friends, but they were mostly concerned over the fact that I seemed remarkably comfortable and happy with the idea of not existing. I could explain to them that this dream wasn’t some manifestation of depression, or suicidal ideation, or anything like that. But far more than this world, this life, I felt like I belonged there, could be myself and do the things I wanted and be comfortable in ways that I have never really experienced.
Seeing this concern of theirs and being unable to convince them that I wasn’t about to go and off myself, I stopped talking about it. I carried the memory and the feeling of the dream for years, a secret inside myself that I figured nobody would ever really be able to understand, because it wasn’t theirs to experience, wasn’t a world or plane or existence that suited them even a fraction as well as it suited me.
And then I read Every Heart a Doorway. And in it, I read about characters who had taken trips to impossible worlds, worlds that had room for them and fit them and gave them what they craved, even when those worlds were no shiny happy positive-all-the-time things. Those worlds were theirs, the way The Silence was mine, and nobody really understood what it was like to have that unless they, too, had gone elsewhere, wandered through a door that shouldn’t exist and found something on the other side that impacted them so profoundly. People who came back never really fit in here, in this world, any more, having been changed by being given that taste of something that fit their nature and personality far more than what this world can provide. I thought, while reading it, that if I could jump into the pages and tell any one of them about that dream, about The Silence, they would understand.
Do I think I actually slipped through the gap between realities and dreamed my way into another world? No, not really. There’s part of me that would love to be adamantly convinced that it all really happened, because imagine the implications of that! But that’s not really the point. The point is that my connection to that dream is what gave me multiple mind-blow moments while reading Every Heart a Doorway, because never before had I seen something like that in print. Stories about people ending up in other worlds, sure, those are everywhere, but that same sentiment? That feeling of rightness even when nobody else understands, even when everybody else says that’s a cause for worry and alarm, that particular expression? I hadn’t seen that before.
The first book resonated with me so hard because of that one dream I had nearly 2 decades ago.
I’ve wanted to get this off my chest for a long time. Many’s the time I’ve been tempted to try and write about my experience with The Silence, to turn it into a short story or a novella, but there have always been too many unanswered questions. Why did I need to stop existing? Who makes those decisions? What even is the point of such a story? And now that the Wayward Children series exists, I don’t think there’s a way I could turn it into a piece of fiction without thinking I was just being derivative, and a poor imitation at that. I’ve debated talking about it like this more than once, and decided against it because I worried that either people just wouldn’t give a damn, or that they’d start to worry about my mental health again after seeing how much that whole idea appealed to me, still appeals to me.
But here I am, and here we are, and the words have finally been written.
This series will always have deep meaning to me. For me, they go beyond the stories of adventure and loss, of need and use and misunderstandings. Even though that mind-blow moment of, “Holy shit, I get this!” has passed, I’ll always have a personal connection to the stories, and one that I certainly didn’t expect when I sat down to start reading them for the first time. McGuire certainly didn’t intend to write a series that would smack me so hard between the eyes, or give me something that I could connect with in such a deeply personal way, but that was the end result, and for that I will always be grateful for the fact that these books exist at all.