Title: Everlost (The Skinjacker Trilogy, #1)
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal
Release Date: October 1, 2006
Synopsis (from Amazon):
Nick and Allie don’t survive the car accident, but their souls don’t exactly get where they’re supposed to go either. Instead, they’re caught halfway between life and death, in a sort of limbo known as Everlost: a shadow of the living world, filled with all the things and places that no longer exist. It’s a magical, yet dangerous place where bands of lost kids run wild and anyone who stands in the same place too long sinks to the center of the Earth.
When they find Mary, the self-proclaimed queen of lost souls, Nick feels like he’s found a home, but Allie isn’t satisfied spending eternity between worlds. Against all warnings, Allie begins learning the “Criminal Art” of haunting, and ventures into dangerous territory, where a monster called the McGill threatens all the souls of Everlost.
In this imaginative novel, Neal Shusterman explores questions of life, death, and what just might lie in between.
Why I Think Boys May Enjoy This
Let’s just start with the fact that the two main characters die in the first chapter. Anyone who is into exploration of morbidity/death even a little bit will show up just for that price of admission. After that, Shusterman does a fantastic job of building a very complex mythos for his Everlost world borrowing from religion/mythology, paranormal/ghost stories, and overlaying it onto our world in such a way as to make it feel very real and possible. While he sets up this “in between” world, Shusterman avoids being preachy or really focusing on any particular religion/mythology at all, which is nice. The story feels like a cross between Neverland and Lord of the Flies (and, clearly not unaware of this, the author makes allusions to both Peter Pan and William Golding’s seminal work).
As with many “firsts” in fantasy, a good chunk of the book is worldbuilding oriented. Thankfully, Shusterman knows not to do this with large chunks of exposition but instead to allow our newly-introduced-to-the-world protagonists in Nick and Allie to discover the world through their adventure. This creates a more organic exploration that allows the author to teach the reader about the world without boring infodumps. Allie and Nick are fantastic main characters. While Nick experiences better growth throughout the story, Allie’s constant determination is a stronger catalyst for the plot. They compliment each other well.
The best part of this book (and as I understand from my 11yo who read the entire series already) is how masterfully Shusterman plays with the concept of good and evil in this purgatory-like setting. This is where Everlost really shines. The world of Everlost is kind of neutral by its nature. Good guys/bad guys are merely a matter of perspective. Shusterman plays with this theme, teasing the “big monster” the McGill throughout the early portions of the story while simultaneously hinting that Mary Hightower, despite her extensive knowledge, may not be as forthcoming with information as she lets on in her myriad books about Everlost. This leaves the reader questioning exactly who is the real antagonist of the series: Mary? The McGill? Allie? Nick? Everlost itself? There is a great conclusion to Book 1 of this series but I heartily look forward to the rest of them to see how he explores this concept further.
Aside from the fact that every child in this book is dead, there is relatively little grossly morbidity in the book. Once the reader accepts the whole dead children aspect, it reads like a more typical fantasy story with children as the focal point. There are well-placed reminders throughout that they are, in fact, dead and simply lost on their way to “where they were going” but most of the methods of death are left unknown or only briefly discussed. Shusterman does not go into gory detail or leave the characters with any type of gross deformities (other than ones created by their own minds, forgetting how they appeared in life) like the dead shown in movies like Beetlejuice.
There are no language or sexual content concerns, so much so that I came across this book because it was required reading for my son’s sixth grade English class (kudos to his teacher for introducing them to such a series in lieu of the same tried and true stories over and over). There is some “love” talk but the whole concept of relationships are predominantly left to either: A) friendship or B) a partnership wherein a person’s skills and talents offer something to the other person(s).
As for the rating, I unfortunately had to knock a mallet off of a 5/5 rating for a big pet peeve with the writing. The characters, setting, and plot are awesome. Unfortunately, Shusterman is a bit of a head-jumper when it comes to point-of-view. It was not uncommon for him to jump in and out of Allie’s and Nick’s thoughts in a single passage. Sometimes he used line breaks to jump further (say from one setting to another) but his semi-omniscient POV was at times jarring (kinda like it would be to be skinjacked – the Everlost concept of possessing a living person). It wasn’t bad enough to ruin the rest of the story, but I felt it bore mentioning as to why I only rated 4/5 for this.