Neal Shusterman,
(Simon & Shuster, 2006)

Dead kids are tricky propositions. In all honesty, some kids just aren't all that nice when they're alive, so one -- or rather, a particular type of "one," like Neal Shusterman -- might well wonder, "What happens to the not-good kids?"

In Everlost, Shusterman attempts to provide his own answer.

Effectively, Everlost is a ghost story: In the first few pages, Nick and Allie, two fairly normal preteens, are killed in a head-on collision. Because neither are entirely blameless or entirely good, they are stuck in limbo -- doomed to remain in a version of the physical world, but unable to make themselves visible to normal humans. The book chronicles their adventures through the afterlife, in which they will be treated to several conflicting views of "afterlights," as such deceased children are known, and their role in the world.

Shusterman creates a convincing portrait of a possible afterlife, which, although similar to the real world, also contains the "ghosts" of well-known buildings -- including the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center. Shusterman plays this aspect of the story delicately, building up an engaging world of memory and forgetfulness.

However, the two central characters remain bizarrely flat until almost three-quarters of the way through the novel, allowing themselves to be guided through Shusterman's landscape. Allie is a somewhat standard, headstrong (formerly) rich girl, with Nick as her quiet sidekick. However, the side characters and the various factions within the afterlife are where Shusterman really shines -- Mary Hightower, one of several leaders of groups of "afterlights," is a truly complex creation, and is a character whose presence is certainly haunting.

But although the book certainly has its strengths, plotting is not one of them. Certain portions, especially through the middle of the novel, drag unforgivably for a young-adult novel, and the story doesn't really kick into action until rather after halfway through. This is certainly a mistake, especially since the book is marketed towards ages 12 and up ... which means it will almost certainly be read by clever 8-year-olds, as well. It takes a long time for the book to really pick up momentum, though if the wait can be borne, it's definitely worth it -- the last few chapters are exciting and, even better, deeply satisfying.

So Everlost seems to fall in with that loose set of YA dark fantasy, a set that also contains such authors as Holly Black, Emma Bull and Joan Aiken. But does it measure up? Overall, I would say that, while the novel certainly has its merits, it's not quite good enough to measure up. While the setting is engaging, it almost overpowers the central characters, and that's not a good thing. Unfortunately, Everlost may live up to its title.

review by
Theo deRoth

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