Do you know how sometimes you’ll finish the last sentence of a book and think, “This was magic. Pure magic”? This is what happened to me with A Hall of Keys and No Doors by Emmie Mears. Although slow to start – what a satisfying book and what a strong ending. Really left my heart full.
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★★★★☆ 4 stars
How I read this:
free review copy from NetGalley
Ella has lost her twin brother three years ago, but she is still reeling. Unable to get over his death and also an old breakup with a fiance, she won’t let anyone near her. And now that her grandmother has died and her parents are on the other side of the world, she finds herself almost completely alone – that is, apart from the strange old house her grandmother has left her, her “batty old aunt” (notably, one that regularly snows up to dig through the old house.. without permission), and her best friend of many years. But Ella’s life is going to take a few quick turns soon, and it has something to do with a weird wall of keys in the house and a cryptic, but seemingly innocent message her grandmother left her. Where will it all take her?
A Hall of Keys and No Doors is a poignant story about letting go, forgiving yourself and learning to live with loss and grief. With quite a healthy dose of magical realism in the mix as well!
Now I Don’t Read A Lot Of Magical Realism…
I don’t know how it’s been like this lately, but I find myself reading a lot more magical realism these days than I used to! It’s pretty odd, as I don’t normally enjoy it. But this is the second book this month where I thought the use of magical realism was very tasteful and worked quite right. (The first one was a short, but sweet middle grade called The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow and it was lovely.) Maybe I should read them more!
An image of grey, white and orange dulled down glitter lights. Image source: Pixabay
It’s Slow To Start, But It Stays With You
A Hall of Keys and No Doors was slow, and I mean really slow to start, as it took me half of the book to get into it! But not in the sense that stuff wasn’t going on. It was, and plenty of it, but I wasn’t at all invested in the book for at least half of it.
But then I kept reading anyway, and I’m so glad I did. The ending was so powerful it almost made my cry, and there was also a lot of emotionally charged stuff by the end as well (I even got so indignant about some of the characters!)
I feel like this book will stay with me. I’m still pondering some of the decisions the characters made. I can definitely recommend it, but I must say, just stick with it. It may take you a while to get into it if you’re like me, but its well worth it. (The best illustration of this is how at first I thought I was just going to leave a short Goodreads review and that’s that, but now you see me writing out a full fledged review after 3 weeks of not posting anything, don’t you.)
A photo of a man in a dull seaside quay, sitting on the stone and looking at the cityscape visible beyond the water.
He seems to be thinking about something. Image source: Pixabay
Tough Topics, But Important Questions
The story has some serious triggers – like losing a sibling, being cast out by your family, being abused because of being queer, losing a job. There’s loads of guilt thrown around, so it isn’t exactly an easy read.
But that’s what makes the ending so strong for me – and I’m not going to spoil it, but the end boils down to one very big, but mostly philosophical question: if you could undo all of the bad stuff that ever happened – would you?
All the loss and the pain, the guilt could be gone, but… Then wouldn’t all the good things that came out of them be gone too?
The characters are weighing these two things in order to make their choice. And despite the fact that real life doesn’t usually have these magical realism elements which could actually allow you to make a choice like that, I find that a lot of us probably spend considerable amounts of time pondering such a choice as well. Don’t we? At least I know I do, and that’s why this book resonated with me. The bottom line is that good comes with the bad, and there is just no way we can take these two apart – they are two sides of the same coin.If you could undo all the bad stuff that's ever happened to you – would you? This is the question in A Hall of Keys and No Doors: Click To Tweet
Other Things Of Note
There are more things to A Hall of Keys and No Doors that will resonate with readers – like the fact that the main character is bisexual and is so tired of how straight people think she’s a straight person who is experimenting, and the gay people take her to be a lesbian who just hasn’t made up her mind yet. There is also quite a bit about how coming out, especially without wanting to, can be devastating on the family ties, especially if that family is very religious. I loved how these topics are not central – which normalizes them and makes them just a part of the story, a part of normal life. (By the way, there are way more than just one queer character as well.)
There is, of course, also romance! The romance is not central, but it is adorable and sweet, and I felt like it was just the right amount of it in the story. And there is a considerable amount of various family drama which basically tore my heart out, but was very well placed. And in the midst of it all, there’s lasting friendship! A Hall of Keys and No Doors is a very rich book and I can truly only recommend it.
I thank the publisher for giving me a free copy of this ebook through NetGalley in exchange to my honest review. This has not affected my opinion.
Do you read a lot of magical realism? Or have you only recently discovered its magic for yourself, just like me?
I’m Evelina and I blog about books that made an impression on me. I love middle grade, women’s, scifi and some literary too.