Allison's Book Bag

The Skinjacker Trilogy by Neal Shusterman

Posted on: September 14, 2013

The Chocolate Ogre, Allie the Outcast, Mary Hightower, and The McGill. These are some of the unusual characters that populate Neal Shusterman’s famed Skinjacker Trilogy.

It’s all about a quest. It’s all about the question. I don’t give answers. I think that the only questions that are worth posing are the ones that don’t have simple answers. If I pretend to know the answers, that would be presumptuous of me—to pretend to know the answers of the grand questions that really can’t be answered. All we can do is try to look at it from different points of view, and pose questions in different and interesting ways.

—Neal Shusterman

EVERLOST

The front inside flap of Everlost describes it as an imaginative novel  that explores questions of life, death, and what might lie in between. As such, and especially because this is a book by Neal Shusterman, who likes to pose grand questions, I read Everlost with the afterlife on my mind. Meet Nick and Allie, whose families’ cars crash head-on one fateful day, sending our hero and heroine hurtling down a tunnel towards a light. But instead of reaching that light, Nick and Allie bump into one another and awake in a forest clearing.

Soon, Nick and Allie are introduced to the concept of inter-life, or that space between life and death. It isn’t purgatory or Nirvana, but is rather a completely new kind of limbo. As the tale continues to unravel, we learn that God hears prayers in Everlost and that there are also evil spirits.

While Shusterman doesn’t, as I initially expected him to, pose questions about the specifics of heaven or hell or various recognized states of limbo, he does explore the BIG question about what happens after we die.

EVERWILD

The front inside flap of Everwild reveals that the limbo world is now at war, accounts of which are certainly engrossing. But there are other aspects of the second book in Shusteman’s series that captivated my heart. For example, because in Everlost “all things that have earned immortality remain forever in glory”, Shusterman puts himself in the enviable position of being able to offer recognition to real tragedies. Perhaps the most notable instance is that of the twin towers, whch are held forever in Everlost “by the memories of a mourning world, and by the dignity of the souls” who died that day.

I’m struck by the number of historical events to which Shusterman pays homage. The most prevalent is that of the Hindenhurg, a German passenger airship that infamously exploded on May 6, 1937, while attempting to dock in New Jersey. Another is that of the space shuttle Challenger, about which Shusterman writes, “Ask anyone who was alive at the time, and they will still remember where they were the moment that the shuttle Challenger blew up just thirty-three seconds after lifting off from Cape Canaveral”. (Indeed I do. On that dreadful day, I stood in the student union at Judson College, unopened mail forgotten in my hand as I stared aghast at the horrifying television images.) Other tributes are less tragic. The Grand Ole Opry, a weekly country music concert in Nashville that made country music famous, takes center stage in a few chapters.

One of the quirks of the Everlost world is that its inhabitants soon start to forget who they are. The first memory to go is of one’s name. Most other memories are eventually lost too, which may or may not be so bad except that one becomes whatever memory survives. When Nick wages war against Mary Hightower, his strongest memory is of the chocolate bar which he’d smeared on his face just before the accident, and soon it becomes his dominant memory and thereby endangers his very existence. As it turns out, it’s hard to stay alive when one is slow melting into a pool of chocolate! When another character, Mickey, finds himself sinking into the ground, his anger is what allows him to be successful where others fail. Unfortunately, his anger is what also causes him to develop claws and other monstrous features, until his very nature is corrupted and twisted. While no one can be killed (again) in Everlost, feel pain, or even get injured, one can be tied up, imprisoned, and made to endure other tortures from monsters such as The McGill.

EVERFOUND

As I finished each book in The Skinjacker Trilogy, my husband would ask me, “Are you planning to buy the set?” To that question, I always responded, “I won’t know until I read the third book.” He suggested it shouldn’t matter given that I liked the first two, but far too many trilogies have let me down with their concluding volume. Thankfully, Everfound did not.

As often happens with the final book, Everfound is the darkest and most complicated in the set. Nick and Mary are both building armies to destroy one another. Allie has not only discovered the ability to skinjack (hijack a body of a living person), but also what that means and how to use it to help or destroy the living. Having been stripped of his monstrous shape by Mary, Mikey McGill falls in love with her and is quickly rejected, which awakens a new power within him. He can use this power for good or for bad—and it’s anyone guess which he will do. There are also new characters introduced, such as a scar wraith who can permanently extinguish the souls in Everlost. And then there are familiar character who take on larger roles, such as Jackin’ Jill, who used to be a love interest of Milos, who himself took a fancy to Allie until she rejected him. Oh, and by the way, the reason Nick wants to destroy Mary is because she wants to destroy our living world.

Did I mention that Everfound is dark and complicated? Indeed, sometimes it felt a little too much like our own world, whereas I read fantasies to escape into a fanciful and imaginative place. Over all, though, I still feel Shusterman has successfully  created a well-written and memorable trilogy.

CONCLUSION

I noted that Shusterman doesn’t pose questions about the specifics of heaven and hell. His fantasy limbo world is simply too weird to have any intended connection to any religion’s view of the afterlife. Imagine a place where one never changes appearance or age, yet can lose one’s memory and therefore one’s identity. Or where one can sink through the earth if one stays still for too long, but with special powers can leap into the body of a living creature. Within this world one can become complacent by settling in one location and developing an unwavering routine, but then one will never search out the token needed to head back to the light and one’s final destination. Or one might see relics from history, but not be able to return to one’s actual home without disastrous results. Oh, and if one lands in a vortex, one’s basest nature will multiply in strength. What a strange and fantastical world! Underlying the trilogy though is the notion that if one chooses to leave this semi-safe place, one is choosing to walk into the light and face permanent nothingness—or hell, or heaven. In this way, Shusterman keeps that BIG question in the back of one’s mind.

Later this fall I’ll have the pleasure of meeting Neal Shusterman at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival in Nebraska. The Everlost Trilogy is a strong contender for purchase, with the purpose of getting signed.

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