I have to start by saying that EHaD does exactly what it sets out to do: telling a fascinating story about the lost kids of fantasy tales (most of them girls), who once having fulfilled their quests and ejected back into the mundane reality have to deal with the fact that they seemingly had it all, gave their all and all they got was a t-shirt, so to speak.
McGuire manages to evoke all those fantastical tales while going further than the happy endings those tales offered and make you realize that they were very likely far from happy. This is not so much about girls and boy who found a fantastic reality where they could play heroes, but rather the outsiders of our world who found a place where they could fit in perfectly, unlike our world.
It’s as much about escape, like most of these stories were in the first place, as it is about finding a place that accepts them for who they are, but then throws them out again. That must be a double-whammy, hard to understand at that age. The question most of them asks themselves afterward What did I do wrong (as an adult it’s easy to see that they didn’t, but these are all kids without much experience).
I loved both the setup and the house for those wayward children that McGuire created and I would have happily read a thousands pages just describing their daily life and how they coped with mundane reality again. Sadly halfway in the story changes pace, transforms into a murder mystery and ends on a strange note. Spoiler. The main POV manages to get back to her magical world. Now, while this sounds like a happy ending and McGuire is trying hard to sell it as such, too me it reeks of an esoteric happy ending, where the author thinks or at least tries to sell it as happy based on the text alone, while to me it feels like a complete downer.
Living isn’t about finding a place where you fit perfectly, but rather creating such a place from the stuff that surrounds us (mostly people). And it’s a process that never ends. The ending of EHaD shows the main POV going back to the place where she fits perfectly, a world that never changes, never grows, and neither will she ever. Never learn that there’s so much more to life. Maybe that was the implicit lesson in all those old tales EHaD tried to improve upon, the one lesson nobody thought needed to be spelled out. These kids weren’t thrown out, they had outgrown simplistic fantasies and these worlds had nothing more to offer.