Everlost (Skinjacker #1)

End Date:  April 25th

Author:  Neal Shusterman

Published:  2006

Genre:  Young Adult

Pages:  313 (hardcover)

Selected By:  BillMo

Average Score:  Scoring It Was OK Book

“Nick and Allie don’t survive the car accident… but their souls don’t exactly get where they’re supposed to get 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 children 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 kids, 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.” – from the Goodreads summary.

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Gigglemug Reviews

BillMo:  Scoring It Was OK Book

Ah…what can I say… everyone has to have a bad monthly selection occasionally, and I guess it’s best to go ahead and let mine be my first pick of the year.  🙂

To be honest, I didn’t hate this book… but I didn’t love it, either.  It was a very childish story with zero twists and a very immature overall style.

Our “heroine”, Allie, is a piece of work.  She didn’t seem to care about anyone other than herself, and those she might have considered her friends she simply used to reach her personal goals.  At one point, she comes dangerously close to causing a flesh-and-blood person irreparable harm, all so she can have what she wants when she wants it.  For someone who acts so high and mighty, for someone who is written to be the heroine of a YA novel, the message she sends across is that true strength is found in being ruthless and sacrificing those around you who are weaker on the altar of your own necessity; that is definitely not the sort of message I would want to convey to my own spawnlings.

The character of the McGill was supposed to be a monster, and we hear about what a horror he is for so much of the novel that the description of his appearance – when he finally arrives on the scene – was, rather than fearsome, completely comical to me.  I still can’t get the image out of my head of a sloth covered in mucus with an Alf-like face and a pirate hat.  I truly think that, though the only people admitted into Everlost were children, it would have been a far better twist to have had the McGill revealed to be an adult who, for some diabolical reason, remained trapped in this children’s world.  This turned out not to be the case, however, and the McGill swiftly becomes nothing more than the product of another disgruntled child’s temper tantrum.

I liked some things about the book such as the quote:

“He had faith in faith, though – that is to say, he deeply believed that someday he’d find something to deeply believe”. 

I also liked the name Allie, who did not like the term “ghost,” gave the citizens of Everlost in the beginning: USD’s (Undefined Spectral Doohickies).  Unlike Esbe, I did like how the ghost ship came to find itself in Everlost, as well as the explanation that it was the victim of a “very large ocean fart.”  These were all pretty immature and silly things, but I thought they were fairly creative, personally.

The saving graces that kept this book from being a one-cup read for me were: the fortune cookies always being right, the appearance of the Amityville House, the children’s coins, and the Epilogue.  Really, the Epilogue saved the whole thing for me, though I do think it would have been better if it had been presented as a Prologue – a sort of glimpse into the future – and then the rest of the book had begun, showing us how we got to that point; I think that might have made the impact of the revelation of just who is truly evil in Everlost more substantial rather than just hitting us with a dull thud.

I think I’ve given a lot away with this review, so I won’t get into greater details, in case any of our readers care to read the novel.  I will say that if you look for it online, you’ll find quite a lot of positive reviews, which I feel were based on the book’s overall lack of complexity and emotion – there is no real sorrow found in these pages, nor is there any substantial struggle, and, in the end, everything turns out just as you would wish it to.  I may come across as heartless here, but I think most stories for anyone over the age of five should have some sort of tragedy, or, barring that, something exciting or unexpected ought to happen.  The world we live in now is so connected that children aren’t as innocent as they used to be, their eyes are much wider open than ours were when we were little, and it takes more to shock and dazzle them; more books for young people should aim for Harry Potter: depth and layers… like parfait.  🙂

And no, I will not be reading the rest of this series.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Nobody really.  But I would like it noted that had I been the McGill, the children of Everlost would truly have had something real to worry about.  I mean… “chiming…”??!  Come on!

BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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The Divine Ms. Em: Scoring Liked Book

I really enjoyed this one, and even though it was definitely a novel for young readers, I thought it refreshingly simple and creative.  Sometimes it is fun to read a novel that is just entertaining and not wrought with arrogant prose or deep and profound meaning – just a quick, entertaining read.  I thought this book fit that category.  I did listen to the Audible version, and the narrator was really quite good, which I’m sure added to the entertainment factor.

Allie and Nick were in a head-on collision in separate cars, and both were killed.  They ran into each other when going towards the light at the end of the tunnel to the afterlife and woke up in Everlost is the place between the worlds of the living and the dead where the Afterlights live, interact, and spend time – either indefinitely or until they return to and reach the end of the tunnel.  Allie and Nick are found by an Afterlife (whom Allie dubs “Lief”) that has been in a dead forest for over a hundred years.  Dead zones are a place where there was death and the things in it meant something to someone, so it exists forever in Everlost.  Certain pieces of furniture or a special musical instrument may be in Everlost – along with the Twin Towers in NYC and the Columbia Space Shuttle.

Allie and Nick are not aware and do not believe at first that they are truly dead.  When Allie tries to flag down some cars and a truck drives right through her, she has to face the fact that she is no longer living.  Lief wants Nick and Allie to stay in the forest with him so he can have some company, but Allie is determined to go home and see if her father survived the crash and how her family is doing in her absence.

As soon as they leave the forest, they realize that when they are not in a dead zone they will sink into the ground if they stand in one place too long.  Each step is like walking in ankle-deep snow, so they create home-made snow shoes to help them walk more easily on the surface.  Allie is from New Jersey, so they head in that general direction, meeting interesting characters along the way until finally reaching New York City.  At that point, Allie heads toward the southern part of Manhattan, where she, Nick, and Lief find a huge dead zone dominated by two shining towers – towers in which they find Mary Hightower, the self-appointed caretaker of hundreds of Afterlights.

The core group goes through various phases and realizations about their new existence and go through many adventures with each other and other characters, such as the evil monster known as “The McGill.”

I would definitely recommend Everlost if you want a quick and entertaining read.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Allie.

Ms. Em listened to the Audible version of this book.

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Lady Esbe:  Scoring No Like Book

I’m not one to pull punches.  Let me preface my review by saying, I would not give this to my eight year old goddaughter to read.  In fact, upon the first few pages of the book, she would have put it down to the side and declared “this is horrible, I can’t read this,” and this is a child who only keeps a book her aunt wrote on her bookshelf so as to not cause hard feelings ;-).  I dare say this book is below her sixth grade reading level.  To say it was simplistic, is an understatement.  Shusterman’s attempts at being clever came off as inane and childish.  For instance, his use of the Bermuda Triangle as a vehicle for which ships would make it into Everlost, at first glance and reading at face value only, is just a vehicle to explain why the McGill’s ship appeared (with some other requirements).  However, the redeeming factor is this: it was a quick read.

The title of Everlost really should be The Trouble with Allie or It’s All about Allie.  Let it suffice to say, I hate Allie.  As the novel wears on, I find myself blaming her (even though it’s irrational) for Nick not making it into the light.  When we first meet Allie, she is arguing with her father in the car.  This scene, even though brief, sets us up for what will be the rest of the novel.  She is the typical teenager who doesn’t know squat but insists on trying to outsmart everyone.  She has no respect for authority.  Even if the author is trying to spin it as a brave thinker, that is so contrary to how it actually comes off during the course of a novel.  Allie is a spoiled brat who throws a temper tantrum every time something doesn’t go her way and questions authority at every turn just for the sake of questioning authority.  Yeah, yeah, she wanted to get home.  To what end?  I do not believe it was about her wanting to make sure that her father survived the accident, just Allie’s need to get what Allie wants.

Shusterman attempts make Allie clever.  However, her ineptitude at being clever is rewarded with bumbling success.  She admits to not knowing anything about Everlost, but insists she surely knows more than Mary, The McGill, the Haunter and Lief.  At every turn Shusterman allows her a win, at the expensive of innocents such as Lief and Nick, first being taken captive by the Haunter and then by the McGill.  If there is a lesson to be learned, it’s do as you wish no matter the costs and at anyone’s expense and you will rewarded for your selfishness.

Other than her overt self-serving antics, there are a couple of other issues I have with Allie and her actions.  She is not charismatic or persuasive.  I cannot say enough that she comes off as a petulant brat that will hold her breath until she gets her way.   She withholds information as it suits her, just as she accuses those around her of doing.  She’s as manipulative as any other character in the book, just not nearly as convincing as the others.  I find it hard to believe that she was able to manipulate Johnny, through flattery of all things, to get him to aide her in taking on the Haunter.  While Allie manipulates so haphazardly, she just manages to dig a further hole to move her along to her end goal, cause more chaos on her way “home”.  I don’t know many people who would want to send someone to oblivion to only help them with the promise of food.  Strange, Mr. Shusterman, just strange.  What really threw me into a tizzy is that the “adventures” that Allie drags Lief and Nick on in order to find her way “home”, she just abandons this venture willy nilly at the end.  Her sole motivation is to get home.  By some minor stroke of conscious, she tries to right some of the trouble she put Nick and Lief into.  However, I feel the motivation is more to have her traveling companions back on her journey home.  Yet, after all of the trouble she has caused, she just arbitrarily drops her pursuit at the end of the novel.  LIVID…that would be the word that would describe my ever increasing frustration with this book.

So, I can honestly say most of the characters annoyed me in some way, shape or form.  Nick, while whiny was probably the moral compass of the group.  He was a follower and a worry wart.  He was willing to do what he could to please Mary and Allie.  He was an equitable companion to Lief.  I think the two balance each other nicely, Nick with is uptight worrisome attitude and Lief with his very Zen state of being.  Lief has found peace, probably due to having spent so long in Everlost.  Nick finds his calling by the end of the book and I’m pleased with how he ended the book and that Leif was able to get to where he needed to be.  While Nick initially annoyed me, I loved his discovered role.  I love that he was able to ultimately help, Lief.

As for the remainder of this cast of annoyance, Mary was too good to be true and written as such.  She is selfless to the point of making me suspicious as to her true motivations.  When the turn came at the end, I wasn’t shocked, just annoyed by how predictable the author made the situation.  Also, for The McGill, I felt strongly as to his identity long before Shusterman decided to reveal to the reader who he was.  I think he tried too hard to make the McGill evil and Mary a potential heroine.  However, in the end, he flip-flopped everyone’s roles.  Nick is now dogmatic in his quest to free the lost souls of Everlost, while Mary seems content to hoard souls for her own selfish purposes.  The McGill transforms from the monster he is to a semi-decent spirit who is determined to assist others on their journey.

All in all, I’m grateful this was a quick read.  I hated how it progressed because it was predictable and nonsensical.  The resolution or lack thereof only served the purpose to create a series.  Really, he could have done us all a favor and ended this craptastic story here.  There was no need to have everyone do a one hundred and eighty degree turn.  The need for characters to grow is always welcome, but the pat “resolutions” that Shusterman employs only served to increase my ire.

I only give this novel the rating that I do because I do love Lief and Nick.  Heck, I’ll even stretch as far to say, I kinda like the McGill.  However, that was not enough to salvage a higher score for me.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Lief.

Lady Esbe read the Simon & Schuster hardback version of this book.

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Elle Tea:  Scoring No Like Book

The first thing I just have to advise readers is that this book is marketed towards Young Adults (typically considered ages 12 – 18), but the style and overall “message” of the story definitely don’t seem to be the sort that would appeal to that particular group of readers – I’d even go so far as to say that recommending it to readers of that age group might be insulting to their intelligence.  The style itself – with its simplistic sentence structure (which essentially reads like “See Spot run.  Spot runs fast.  Run, Spot, run.”) and lack of any substantial threat, menace, or mature message – might be more suitable for children between the ages of 6 and 8… except the entire premise is centered around children who meet relatively violent and abrupt ends and find themselves trapped in limbo, which I’m not entirely certain is appropriate for kids of so young an age as 6 at all.

But I guess from my score you can pretty much see that I didn’t care for this novel at all.  I’m loath to give it NO cups simply because the idea itself as presented in the original synopsis held promise: children who have died are left wandering a ghostly wilderness, but one of the newcomers decides to begin haunting the living – explicitly breaking the rules of this strange new world.  The story itself, however, could be better summarized as this: the children are dead, the wilderness isn’t all that wild, the ghosts aren’t really ghosts, and the whole haunting thing – besides the avoidance of such a tactic being more of a suggestion than an actual rule – is actually relegated to a couple of instances of brief possession.

I saw a few favorable comparisons made between this novel and Peter Pan, but, after finishing Everlost, I have to say that these comparisons are blindly optimistic for the former and highly insulting to the latter.

Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up is a Victorian coming-of-age novel with a simple and fantastical structure on the surface but a rather complex backstory and resolution; it’s whimsical and engaging, with its fairies and mermaids and pirates, but J. M. Barrie based his original fantasy on people he knew quite personally (in particular the Llewelyn Davies family), and the principle character stands in violent opposition to Victorian ideals: Barrie’s hero is everything Victorian children were specifically forbidden to be – he’s disobedient, rude, poorly educated, etc. – and he kidnaps the Darlings in an effort to save them (albeit temporarily) from their perfectly Victorian parents who, as was to be expected, neglected their children for a social engagement.  Despite all of the wonders of Neverland, the message in the end is quite clear and rather bittersweet for young readers: magic is fine for children, but children cannot escape becoming adults.

Everlost has the simplicity part down, but there is nothing complex about the story or the resolution: what you think might happen when you begin the tale is exactly what happens at the end, and any ideas you may have about the characters you meet will prove, after a bit of rambling and running about, to be spot-on.  The hero is disobedient and rude, but, unlike Pan, she is not in her own world operating under her own rules, and the only person she is attempting to save is herself, no matter who she has to hurt along the way.  The ghostly world known to its denizens as Everlost is lackluster at best, a monochromatic watercolor of yawn-inducing landscapes, and the only message Shusterman seems to be trying to convey is that there is life after death, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can go into the light, Carol Anne.

Allie is presented as the hero, and the impression I got was that the author expected us to find her strong, witty, courageous, and refreshingly independent; instead, she comes across as selfish, weak, self-centered, and an overall brat.  No sooner do Allie and Nick arrive in Everlost than she’s marching around telling everyone else that they’re wrong, that her way of thinking is the right way of thinking, that rather than doing what one girl tells them to they should do what she – a relative stranger – tells them to do.  Not only that, but she convinces others to follow her cockamamie schemes, but when they land in a pickle (pun intended) because of it, what does our “hero” do?  She leaves them behind – not once, but twice!  The nail in the coffin for any affections I may have ever had for Allie was when she decided that the only way to achieve her goal was to possess another – in an effort to save her friends from a mess she got them into – and literally endangers and almost sacrifices a teenaged stranger.  What sort of hero is that, exactly?!  What message does that convey to young people?  “Sure, kids, it’s fine to potentially destroy everyone around you, as long as you have a clear goal in mind!”  And then, after all of this, she simply changes her mind about her intended goal.  All of her griping and whining, all of the trouble she caused and all of the messes she left in her wake… and she abruptly has a moment of, “Well, never mind.  I quite like it here.”  What the what?!

Nick is written as a sort of sidekick to Allie – a laughable mess of a boy who lets himself be led around Everlost by someone who arrived the exact same second he did.  He is idealistic, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when combined with his submissiveness it really just turns him into more of a daydreamer than a doer.  Because of his nature, he spends a majority of the novel scuttling along in Allie’s wake, until such time as he finds himself on his own and realizes that he is actually a fairly intelligent human being.  I’d say Nick showed much more growth than anyone else in this novel – but his complete 180 was unexpected.  His acceptance of the situation from the beginning was a stark contrast to Allie’s constant rejection of their reality and any semblance of authority demonstrated by those around her, but his switch to alpha-male was as abrupt as Allie’s sudden resignation.

And as for the novel’s “bad guy”… Not since The Maze Runner have I had such a difficult time not laughing at the idea of a baddy.  After all of the build-up surrounding what a horrible beast the McGill is, the greatest and most terrible beast in all of Everlost turns out to be about as intimidating as the monsters from Where the Wild Things Are: he’s easily manipulated, even more easily “defeated,” and, in the end, more silly than frightening.

Besides the antagonistic behavior of our protagonist, there were a few specific scenes that simply irritated the hell out of me:

Irritating Scene #1:  Early in the story, Allie and Nick are attacked by a character who quite nearly kills her.  And it wasn’t a heat-of-the-moment sort of killing – he put great forethought into it and fully intended to wipe her off the planet (literally).  Later, they cross paths with the same character who agrees to help them in an endeavor which he declares to be impossible and which involves a confrontation that he wishes to avoid at all costs simply because the girl he was ready to murder tells him she needs “someone smart.”

Irritating Scene #2:  About halfway through the novel, Nick is held hostage in a rather unusual (and completely ridiculous) way.  There are hundreds of other children held hostage with him, presumably some have been imprisoned in this fashion for decades, and yet none of them considered actually attempting to escape until Nick himself came along and made short work of it.

Irritating Scene #3:  During Nick’s imprisonment, Allie arrives and finds one of the prisoners screaming his brains out, something which she learns he has done for years, ever since his capture, and there’s nothing any of the other prisoners can do to make him stop.  Allie tells him to stop – and that’s literally what she does, she tells him to “Stop that” – and… the problem is solved.  Seconds later, the prisoners are cheering her ingenuity in having managed such a feat.

The few saving graces of this novel were the fortune cookies, the haunted house, and the Epilogue; I will also add that I think BillMo was spot-on when she said the entire book should have begun with the Epilogue, then worked its way back around to explain the significance of that moment and how it was reached.

To conclude, I simply cannot suggest this novel to anyone of any age.  As an adult, I found it silly and trite, and it’s simply too dumbed-down for anyone in the YA market.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  No one, but I disliked Lief the least, even though the spelling of his name drove me insane.  🙂  (Does anyone know if this is truly how his name was spelled, or was this an error found only in Kindle versions??)

Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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