Adolescent and children stories are usually considered little more than fanciful escapeism, and in many cases, this is true. Some people believe that there is little point in adding layers and complexity into these genres. Neil Shusterman’s Everlost is a prime example of how false this assertion is.

Everlost is a stopping place for children who have died unexpectedly, and somehow gotten lost on the crossover. This world is full of perils, from evil monsters to the very ground, which will suck you to the center of the Earth if you stand still too long. It houses thousands if not millions of children, as well as long destroyed beloved relics.

Everlost has quite a few layers of interest, beyond the story itself. The plot alone in interesting, with lots of detail and fun characters. In Everlost, things are rarely what they seem.

One of my favourite aspects of Everlost is Shusterman’s use of many iconic classics. Everlost harkens back to Neverland, with children who never grow old, govern themselves, fight pirates, and are even “lost” children. Travelers through Everlost might recognize20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, cleverness worthy of the Voyages of Sinbad, betrayals befitting Othello, and countless cultural mythologies and religions, as well as the specific principles of Everlost.  Considering Shusterman’s other work, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Shusterman has a penchant for using classics as models for his work, but these are often parodies or adaptations of a specific work. In Everlost, Shusterman uses many different pieces from different countries and time periods. The result is a complex mythology and entertaining storyline.

Shusterman’s work doesn’t stop there. Using muliple points of view, he outlines not only different perceptions of characters, but establishes multiple philosophies to develop his themes. The concepts of death and afterlife are obviously important themes, but Shusterman explores many others.

The first major theme is reminiscent of Orwell or Fahrenheit 451. Roughly half of the plot debates the merit of comfortable routine with safety and making no real decisions vs. the complete freedom to do so and accept whatever consequences follow. This particular theme begins quietly with the meeting of Leaf, and then progresses through trials and  conflict with Mary Hightower. This theme lines up nicely with a number of required readings, like those mentioned above.

Perhaps my favourite accomplishment in Everlost is Shusterman’s use of Existentialism. This is not a topic often seen in the adolescent and children genres, but I really liked it here. Several characters experience “existential changes” through various means (I won’t spoil it here), and react in different ways. Existential undertones run throughout the book, adding an optional complexity.
I recommend this one for older kids to adolescents, and there is plenty in Everlost for adults. The ending is “what it needs to be” but leaves the somewhat empty feeling of wanting more. Good news: Everlost is the first book of a trilogy. Book 2 has not yet been released, but Inklings will have a review when it comes out. Also, for educators looking for something different to use, this could be an interesting option.

Quotability: This book has several quotable moments. Shusterman uses dialogue to express a number of concepts, as well as using simple descriptive lines. My favourite quote follows the creative “existential epiphany” for Leaf: “Well, ‘Yay!’ anyway.”

Inkling recommended.

Everlost is also available on audio.


Half Moon Investigations

Hello and welcome back to Inklings. It’s been a pretty wild few weeks, hence the blogging delay.  So,without further ado, here is the Half Moon review.   <Beware! Spoilers ahead! If you don’t want spoilers, please continue  until you see these <> things again. :)>

Half Moon Investigations follows FletcherMoon, twelve-year-old private investigator. Seriously, he’s got the badge to prove it and has certified online training.  His investigations lead him to uncover the twisted workings of his hometown when he gets a job from one of the pink “Barbies” in his class. He discovers the unknown merits of the Sharkey local crime family and the IRA/Black Panther-esque feminist revolution of middle school girls, determined to rid their school of pesky boys.

This was probably the most unexpected twist in the book, and I have to say I loved it. It was disturbing in an enjoyable way. The girls were pretty scary with their rapid changes from pink to black and sweet to militant. The determination for education and power reflect much of the feminist movement, even though their methods are not, shall we say, conventional? Most feminists wouldn’t use this approach, but it does play off a common misconceived stereotype- and it was hilarious in shock value. I love adolescent and independent reader material that approaches sociological issues, in whatever way, and this delivered. I was incredulous the entire time.

<End spoilers>

Half Moon has a number of great themes for readers, and is overall entertaining. Means to an end and self-sufficiency are priorities for Fletcher Moon, as he learns to weigh his options in the detective tradition. Students reading this will enjoy the revelations that things- and people- are not always what they seem, no matter how mean or perfect they may seem to be. The personal challenges are real, even if the case is not.

Colfer’s use of the gumshoe detective voice is very funny juxtaposed with a dead serious seventh grader. His observation and description illustrates lots of fun, vivid characters. The adults in this book are abysmally clueless, which adds to the hilarity. Maybe they’re exaggerated, but consider the source: a 12 year-old. Pitch perfect.

As for the plot, the solution may be a little predictable for the avid mystery reader, but the pace, characters, twists, and humor more than make up for it.

Quotability: I love quotations, and a quotable book is always welcome. This book had several quotable moments and lines that made me laugh out loud of find myself nodding. This book is moderately quotable.

Final assessment: Entertaining, fun, good characters, and a quick, accessible read, appropriate for the independent reader ages and up. The young at heart will be pleased.

Inkling approved.

Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer; published by Miramax, 2006 (UK); also available on audio

Genre: Detective fiction, Mystery, Independent Reader, humor

Also, a TV series on CBBC

Review soon to come: Everlost, by Neil Shusterman