Everlost is where teens go when, for whatever reason, they don't go into the light. It's a land shaped by memory - a land that co-exists alongside the living one while rarely ever touching it. The teens exist there as Afterlights, feeling no pain, and gradually forgetting who they were in life.
Allie the Outcast is one Afterlight who doesn't want to forget. She's determined to skinjack her way back to her family - or sink to the centre of the Earth trying.
Nick the Chocolate Ogre doesn't think the Afterlights should be in Everlost at all. He's found a way to get them into the light - a bucketful of the coins all new Afterlights awake with.
Mary Hightower, the most powerful of all Afterlights, is determined to stop Nick in his tracks. She's content in Everlost, worshipped by her followers and extending her empire further every day. She won't surrender that to anyone, no matter what they mean to her...
Everwild is a triumphant return to the world we were first introduced to in Everlost. It follows the journeys of old favourites as they encounter new allies and enemies, pursue their destinies and prepare for war. Secrets are revealed, hearts are broken and afterlives are lost. In other words, it's epic.
Calling to mind J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, the Everlost series is a major achievement in world-building. Shusterman has created a new Neverland for the YA market - it's dangerous, twisted, and every bit as captivating. It's a world where the rules makes sense even though they're different to ours, and where there are plenty of jaw-dropping mysteries just waiting to be uncovered. As in Everlost, the afterlights who inhabit this world are shaped by what they best remember of their living selves: so Nick, who died with a smudge of chocolate on his face and subsequently became the Chocolate Ogre, is gradually being physically consumed by the stuff. New character Zin, who disguised herself as a boy to take part in the Civil War, can't take her cap off - because it's how she remembers herself. It's fascinating to see how Shusterman takes this device to its logical conclusion, and it makes for a truly unique cast of characters quite unlike those I've met in any other series.
In Everwild, Shusterman raises the stakes and lets us in on some of Everlost's darkest secrets. We learn more about skinjacking (the practice of an afterlight possessing the body of a living fleshie) and ecto-ripping (taking items from the living world) as well as the relationship between Everlost and our world. Our focus alternates between the lead characters, following their separate journeys. My personal favourite was Allie's journey to locate the family she left behind, but the other characters' journeys were almost as compelling, often dark, and frequently brightened by the new players they meet along the way.
Perhaps unusually for YA fiction, Shusterman has chosen to use an all-seeing third person narrative for this series. And when I say all-seeing, I mean it - the narrative warns us when a character doesn't have all the facts, tells us things they will never know, and lets us in on thoughts and feelings they haven't admitted to themselves yet. The voice is distinctive, engaging and dryly humorous.
Despite these minor gripes, Everwild is a satisfying read. Those who enjoyed Everlost can be confident that this instalment is more of the same. Newcomers to the series should read Everlost first, but will want to consider having Everwild on hand to read straight after. This trilogy is shaping up to be Neal Shusterman's finest work so far.
Out: February 4th 2010, UK / November 10th 2009, US
Many thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for sending me a copy of this book to review.