By Neal Shusterman
Everwild is the second book of the Skinjacker Trilogy, which began with Everlost and concludes with Everfound. This second volume takes the intricate world introduced in book one and explodes it, further exploring and developing themes in new and fascinating directions.
Everlost is a place between the living and the dead. Children who get lost on their way to the Light end up in Everlost, set to wander until they have prepared themselves to face whatever lies on the other side. Nick, otherwise known as the Chocolate Ogre, has discovered how to set children free from Everlost and send them home to the Light. Mary Hightower, the Sky Witch, believes that Everlost is the perfect place to spend eternity and does all she can to keep children there and happy. The two line up for battle, gathering as many allies as possible, including numerous skinjackers.
This elite group of not-dead-children has discovered how to possess the living. With the addition of this element, Shusterman makes Everlost much more intense. Suddenly the not-yet-all-the-way-dead have a way to affect us on this side of the divide, and he uses the chilling new element to delicious effect.
As usual for Shusterman, he never lets the plot sit stagnant for more than a page or two. His vibrant characters arrest the readers’ attention, and his world is complex and realistic.
I highly recommend this book with one little caveat… and that caveat leads me to a question.
This book attempts to leave the afterlife mysterious by presenting what lies beyond Everlost as an unknown factor. No one knows what lies beyond the light. Some fear it; others embrace it.
Yet, by adding this “pit stop” on the way to eternity, Shusterman is clearly mucking about in the stomping grounds of many religions, not the least of which is Christianity. This book not only adds to the Christian cosmology, but it subtly weaves false theology as well. For instance, one character decides to avoid walking into the light so that he can spend some time redeeming himself. Works righteousness much? Of course, that is only one character’s belief and it may not reflect the truth of this fictional setting, but there’s no word of true grace in this not-quite-afterlife.
It all makes for a fast-paced story, of course, and I couldn’t put it down. Shusterman knows how to construct great characters and believable worlds.
My question is: At what point can a Christian recommend a book that does not espouse Christ? At what point should a Christian not recommend a book, no matter the level of artistry involved?
As a story and as a way to view storytelling craft, I recommend this book wholeheatedly. But for the message it speaks?
Now, please do not misunderstand me. Shusterman never gets preachy; even in a book that could have easily become a soapbox, Shusterman avoids the trap. His Unwind is a chilling science fiction view of abortion that never tells the reader what to think. Here, too, Shusterman does what he can to let the afterworld remain unremarked.
However, because the setting is a realm beyond death… well, what do you think? Christians can certainly enjoy non-Chirstian works (Hello, Firefly and Star Wars!), but at what point do we become wary of recommending such non-Christian works?