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.


1 Comment

  1. “Yay, anyway!”

    Nice review! And you’re correct: it may seem strange to see the term “existentialism” applied to children’s lit, but it’s foolhardy to refute the presence of sophisticated literary tropes like this in books written for younger readers. When an author is not attempting to patronize or talk down to children, you should expect to see some level of depth of this sort. Makes me want to run out and grab a copy!

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