Readers, you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve injured my thumb and didn’t realize repeatedly hitting the space bar (as proper typing will have you do) as I wrote this review would make it feel worse. As a result, my review of The Tombs of Atuan might be a bit late.
Allie and Nick have been in Everlost for a few years. Like everything else that fails to get to where it’s going, they’ve settled in an unpredictable routine that’s become more like a mission. Their days are not consumed by tedious repetition or useless patterns Mary Queen of Snots would approve of. Allie and Nick have long-term goals. The dynamics differ for each, but in the end all Allie wants is to find her home; Nick wants to destroy Mary Hightower. Left to her own extreme ideas of what’s really best for the children of Everlost, her selfish ideals have begun to sink to new lows. Now she’s demonizing Nick as the “Chocolate Ogre,” perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy that threatens to overwhelm Nick’s operation and reveal Mary’s true colors. Neither Nick or Allie is ready to take their coin yet, nor as it turns out, is Mary. And Mikey, Allie’s companion on her journey to find her family, seems to be a bit too preoccupied with how boring his natural state is now that he is no longer The McGill…
Everwild is darker than its predecessor. Mary, quite to my surprise, turned even nastier and desperate in her bid for ultimate control. Of course, now it isn’t just Mary who’s gathering an army, but Nick as well; we’re left to wonder which has the moral high ground. Is it Mary and her delusions of safety and protection? Or is it Nick who wants to make sure Afterlights get to where they’re going? His mission subverts Mary’s operation by recruiting his own band of souls to counter hers, but he’s slowly overcome by the physical manifestations of his preoccupations. The chocolate spot on his cheek has spread to ridiculous and frightening proportions.
As the Chocolate Ogre he’s reclaiming Mary’s epithet for good, sharing a bit of chocolate from his dripping fingers with the children he meets, and hoping his personality and mission (not to mention, the chocolatey bribe) speak for themselves. Unfortunately, while Mary’s need for control extends to her appearance, Nick’s doesn’t. Children become afraid of the boy who no longer looks like a boy. Nor are they always willing to believe what their eyes refuse to admit: Mary’s carefully manicured appearance and cultivated expressions of compassion and authority can’t possibly be manipulations despite Nick’s protestations that they are. Nick’s desperation seems to have only made his mission more difficult.
So has Allie’s, though. Everyone, not just Mary, came across as desperate in this book. Allie’s skinjacking became worse when she found herself associating with Milos and later using skills he helped her perfect to demand visits with her family. She even endangered the lives of others. I found it hard not to notice this change in light of the sweeping feeling of righteous and heroic benevolence sure to work in Nick and Allie’s favor at the end of Everlost. It was a little shocking, but completely satisfying when I feared Everwild might suffer from Middle Book Syndrome and have little to nothing to offer except as an avenue to wander before the final installment arrives.
Lucky for me and other readers, Everwild delivered in unexpected ways, challenged the way we experienced familiar characters and even threw in a little bit of romance for fun. Amid all of the drama and adventure, there was one character that never failed to entertain or engage other characters with her unpolished charm and ill-mannered grace: Zinnia. By herself she was feisty and impressive, her death the result of an inordinate amount of spunk and bravery. As an Afterlight she became just as much of a pioneer and a character that brought levity to her scenes, especially by bickering with Johnnie-O. Zin always reminded me of the conundrum facing Afterlights who want to be taken seriously, of the delicate situation that arises from the indignity of a sudden death. And she, along with Mikey—whom was always so concerned with his reputation, especially when it turns out he is a cute little kid—and the likes of Pugsy Capone were constantly reminding me that all of these characters, these political and social advocates orchestrating large movements, are all children. Despite how adorable and premature adults may find some of their behavior, these children may metaphorically represent the real complexities and group dynamics of not just children on the playground, but young adults as well.
My only complaint was the use of “ripping” or, the ability to pull living things and objects from the live world into Everlost and vice versa. It seemed a little disappointing against Shusterman’s earlier insinuations that death is death and one of those harsh realities we all have to face one day, whether it’s with family, friends, acquaintances, or our own mortality. I wasn’t sure how to take Mary’s fate at the end of the book, but it left me confused. Mostly, it felt like cheating.
Everwild had a lot more humor to alleviate the darker turn the narrative took. It was surprising and I think built toward Everfound rather nicely. Of the two so far, this is my favorite. Zin really made this book so much more funny than I think it would have been otherwise, albeit the chocolate witticisms kept catching me off guard and I’ll admit: they did make me laugh. If you’ve read Everlost you have to read the sequel. I really don’t have any idea what’s going to happen in the next one, but not knowing is half the fun.
Release Date: February 4, 2010 in the UK; November 10, 2009 in the US
Reviewed Format: UK Trade Paperback provided by Simon & Schuster UK