Everwild (The Skinjacker Trilogy)
by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Everwild / 978-1-4169-5863-5
I enjoyed reading "Everwild", but I was frustrated by how much seemed to be *missing* in the midst of this wonderful premise.
First of all, I should admit that I have not read the first book in this series, "Everlost". I dislike bouncing directly into the middle of three-part series, but "Everwild" seemed so fascinating that I dived in with enthusiasm. The premise of the book is that when children die, they very occasionally do not 'go towards the light' but instead are trapped as ghosts, superimposed over the land of the living. Bereft of all the human sensations they once felt, the ghosts ("Afterlights") wander the earth, seeing solace on "deadspots" (areas or items that have passed from the living world to the ghost world) and trying to avoid being sucked by gravity's relentless pull into the center of the earth.
"Everwild" seems to continue on directly from "Everlost", and picking up the feel of this new and exciting world was simple and easy. Shusterman does an admirable job of sinking the reader into his world, particularly with a cute little "welcome to Everlost" book-within-a-book composed by the unreliable Mary Hightower. The main characters are easy to meet and understand, as is the basic overarching plot: two strong-willed opponents are torn over their vision for Everlost; whether it is a heavenly eternity to be embraced or a purgatory to be escaped.
Unfortunately, this intriguing world-building is abandoned early on in favor of the more commonplace tools in the YA author's box: budding romantic feelings, big misunderstandings, and learning secret self-truths. For me, this heavy focus on "standard" YA romantic topics is a detriment to the novel, as so much of what makes Everlost interesting is left unexplored in order to concentrate on romantic angst. A lot of world-building details seem to be ignored or poorly executed: for instance, the population of "Everwild" is completely under the age of seventeen, and this complete lack of any adults in the ghost world does not engender any surprise or suspicion from the residents. Even those ghosts which remain in Everlost for hundreds of years do not mature emotionally in any meaningful manner; even characters hundreds of "years" old remain in a state of perpetual childishness.
It is disappointing that quite a lot of opportunities seem lost here. A fascinating detail of "Everwild" is that the child ghosts cannot suffer hunger, cold, or pain; the only 'threat' to their existence is boredom. And yet, various "mob boss" figures have managed to terrorize incredibly large ghost populations with nothing more than a threat of being thrown into the earth. This is deeply confusing and deserves explanation: in a world without disproportionate firepower, a *dozen* high school bullies shouldn't be able to effectively terrorize a populace of *literally* thousands.
Fundamentally, I feel that a good opportunity was missed to flesh out the dynamics of this strange world, and so often the 'rules' seem to be ignored when the plot judges it convenient to do so. The coins that send the ghosts into the light only work when the child is "ready", but in the heat of a battle, the coins are distributed to troops in order to reduce the numbers on the battlefield - the way the scene is described, *every* child who touches a coin is sent on. "Real world" items such as paper and popcorn are purportedly rare, but Mary Hightower starts handing out copies over her books - written on paper, with ink - like hotcakes, and pretty much everyone in Everlost has read her books. Passages from these books are given at the beginning of each chapter to great aid in the beginning, but great detriment near the end when at least one excerpt (Allie's skinjacking discovery) actively tears the reader from the scene by causing them to realize that not only will Allie escape the predicament she is currently in (in order to later write the book), but that she ALSO will not (immediately) take advantage of this new knowledge.
Behind all the trappings, "Everwild" is very much a typical YA novel. Even the dead have romantic angst and first kisses, and unrequited love seems to be the order of the day, as just about *everyone* in the novel is unhappily in love with someone else. It seems churlish to complain about unrequited love in an admitted teen novel, but it is disappointing to know that even the dead will be consumed by such petty "does-she, doesn't-he" concerns. I recommend "Everwild" as a good read if you're interested in YA novels, but I do wish that more time had been spent on developing the most intriguing character of all: the Everlost world.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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