Review of the Day: Everlost
Simon and Schuster’s favorite Shusterman is back and he’s cooked up a doozy of a new title for general consumption. Proving to the world that he likes a little gritty with his nitty, Shusterman takes a dark turn with a tale of death, life, and an entire world that exists in-between. It’s an elegy to the historical New York region and a fun new way of looking at the nature of ghosts. Because essentially, “Everlost” is a ghost story at its heart. Kids and teens alike will enjoy the story’s arc, and though there are a few loose ends waving about here and there, it’s an enjoyable read just the same. A book with a chance at being remembered as Mr. Neal Shusterman's best.
Two complete strangers collide in a car accident on a treacherous bit of road. Neither person (both children) was wearing their seatbelt at the time. They die, but that’s just on the second page. It seems that Nick and Allie have knocked one another off-course when they were traveling towards "the light" and the two of them find themselves stuck in the middle of a beautiful leafy green forest. They are in the Everlost now, a land somewhere between life and death. No one who ends up in the Everlost is ever much older than fifteen or sixteen, and now our heroes find that the rules they used to live by no longer apply. There is no pain here, but as Afterlights (or ghosts) the kids can only stay in ghostly areas or they’ll sink to the center of the earth. They also have to avoid monsters, roving gangs, forgetting who they are, and falling into comfortable eternal ruts. To get some answers, Nick and Allie join up with the long dead Leif and head towards the Everlost version of New York City to get some answers. How do they leave this impermanent world? Where would they end up if they left? And what is their purpose after all?
Engaging? Entirely. If Shusterman wanted to write a book on how to create first chapters with a bit of bite, this might not be a bad title to reference. Right from sentence one the book gets the reader in a throttle-hold and never lets go. This book has plenty of magic, escapes, villains, mystery, and more to entice a couple reluctant readers here and there. I suspect that reading a chapter a day to a class of kids would work especially well.
The author does an excellent job of thinking up his perfect little world. In fact it's too meticulous in some ways. He has rules for everything to the point where little details that didn’t quite fit would nag at me. For example, once in a while food crosses over to Everlost and children can eat it. As such, Nick at one point gets trapped in a pickle barrel full of Everlost brine. It can’t hurt him, but it’s significantly unpleasant and he stays there for quite some time. Now one would think that Nick would figure that the best way to help his situation would be to drink the pickle brine and keep it from surrounding him if it’s so nasty. Silly? Oh my, yes. But creative kids readers may find lots of situations like this where the heroes don’t act in quite the manner you’d prefer. I also found it interesting that though Allie uses her smarts in various ways, getting herself out of a couple difficulties (though she seems to need rescuing just as often), she never actually saves anyone. Nick, at one point, is captured in quick succession by two wholly different villains. And though Allie works tirelessly to try to save him, in the end he rescues himself alone. Perhaps as a result, Nick ends up with a heroic job to do by the story’s finish while Allie’s fate is left unclear.
Of course Shusterman's language is always a treat. For example, at one point a bad guy has chained a bunch of kids upside down since the only way he can think to torture them is to bore them to death. They just hang there, but Shusterman is quick to remind us that there was always, “the occasional fight, and group sing-along”, which I found rather charming. This is the same evildoer, by the way, who when he finds out that his captives are having a rather nice time says to his best henchman, “Do we have something vile to pour on them?” Shusterman also creates what may be this year’s cleverest villain. You won’t know this person even is a villain for most of the book (though I’m sure that some canny souls will figure it out fairly early in). At the end, however, the real baddie is unveiled and the book ends on a wry note. I don’t know if the author has envisioned sequels to “Everlost” as of yet, he could certainly set himself up for a series here, if he wanted one.
Now there is one little aspect to this book that had me scratching my head and kvetching softly under my breath. The only places an Everlight can remain safely are places that have, like people, met their demise but were well-loved just the same. Old Penn Station, for example, is alive and well in the Everlost. Ditto the Steeplechase Pier and the Steel Pier. However, the Twin Towers appear in this book, and their very inclusion can only be called a calculated risk on Shusterman’s part. How comfortable will readers be seeing the Towers up again and housing hundreds of child ghosts? Is that cool? Is it too soon? As someone who wasn’t a New Yorker on 9/11/01, it doesn’t bother me. I just wonder how people who were in NYC will feel. There is also a mention of the as-of-yet nonexistent Freedom Tower that throws the book for a loop. Perhaps that part of the story will make more sense when and if the tower ever is built.
Some bits in this book work and some don’t. The parts that work include the Hindenburg (minus Nazi tail fins) in a grandiose entrance and the clever usage of a diving horse from Atlantic City. Parts that don’t quite gel include a bizarre reference to Roswell and another to Amityville. But in spite of these little bursts of peculiarity, the book holds together nicely. I didn’t see the twist coming at the end (even with my knowledge of Greek mythology). I liked the people in the book and the ways in which Shusterman chose to break up the text. The world of Everlost has seemingly thought of everything, which is swell. And when you get right down to it, kids are gonna eat this thing up. It may well be Mr. Shusterman’s best work, and it’s certainly an enticing read. Fun. Nothing more. Nothing less.