Death isn't a subject that comes high on the list of things to write in teenage fiction. Characters do die, and dead characters pop up from their graves to haunt and even to fall in love with living ones, but the theme of death itself isn't a topic writers think will have teens rushing to the nearest bookshop.
American author Neal Shusterman is a very brave man to write a book about death. The book could easily have fallen into the categories of disaster or bad taste, but Shusterman knows what he is doing with Everlost, and his wonderful imagination and sensitive, lively story-telling keep the book well away from the slushy tear-fest it could so easily could have become.
On a highway somewhere in America, two cars are approaching each other on a hair-pin bend. Teenager Allie is fiddling with her safety-belt in the passenger seat of the white Toyota. Teenager Nick is wedged between his brother and sister in the back seat of the black Mercedes without a seatbelt on. The two cars crash and Allie and Nick are killed.
Everlost begins with this very dramatic car crash. Where can Shusterman go after this grim and no-nonsense opening? He certainly grabs his readers' attention, but what he will do with it next is a mystery.
Nick and Allie may have been killed in the car accident, but neither of them has really died. They wake up in Everlost, a limbo beyond the living world peopled by youngsters who have died in real life but have not yet moved on to what death really brings. Everlost has its own society, dangers and rules. Nick and Allie want to get back to the lives they had before the car crash and it takes them a long time and many adventures before they realise this is impossible.
Everlost is far from perfect. It has bullies, dangers and threats just like the world Nick and Allie have left behind. It also has Mary Hightower, a self-appointed mother-figure who collects lost children to live with her in New York's Twin Towers - they too have passed into this new world. And also there is The McGill, a monster that stalks Everlost, ready to destroy naive newcomers who do not understand what has happened to them.
Everlost is a fast-paced read, full of adventure, suspense, humour and new ideas. Shusterman's unpredictable plot and inventive setting put this unusual novel at the top of the must-read list for fantasy novel fans and readers who are looking for that elusive something different to dig into and enjoy.
John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]