Mindquakes: Stories to Shatter Your Brain
by Neal Shusterman
This collection of short stories aimed at older grade schoolers feels a lot like Goosebumps novels done fast. The tales are well crafted, and in general the ideas are sharp. The composition, though, is clearly aimed at younger kids, which leads to fairly simple stories despite the plot twists within.
Some of the stories are pretty bland, but there are definitely a few jewels within that are well worth the reader’s time, whether the reader is in grade school or is an adult. For instance, “Caleb’s Colors” contains not just a one-time twist, but a number. I walked into that story expecting the plot inversion… but then it swerves again after that… and then again! The unpredictability of this short story made it an enjoyable read.
It wouldn’t be a Shusterman book without some truly creepy imagery that stays with you long after you’ve shut the book, and this collection of short stories is no exception. “Pea Soup” has the kind of horrifying transformation done well that lingered in my head for far longer than the story itself deserved. “Terrible Tannenbaum” also presents an ingenious bad guy: a Christmas tree that hates Christmas.
Shusterman always has some great concepts. “The Elsewhere Boutique” about a shop that sells alternate realities grabbed my imagination. I want to read more about that store and its curious owner, though I realize that Shusterman’s set-up makes it a short story concept and not strong enough to carry an entire novel. “Dark Alley” about bowling alley eggs was simply fun for its inventiveness. “Retaining Walls,” about a man who builds walls that keep other realities from intruding on ours, was one of the few stories that I felt could easily carry the weight of an entire novel.
You may notice I’m not saying a lot about the plots in the collection. Since most of these are simple stories whose entire attractiveness is based on the inventiveness of their plots, I’m loath to give too much away.
I found this in a fifty-cent bin at a used bookstore. If you happen to find a copy there, it’s well worth it. If you love Goosebumps, pick this thing up. If you’re a Shusterman completest (like I’m becoming), well, here’s another one of his.
If you’ve never understood the attraction of youth horror, though, I’d avoid this. “Caleb’s Colors” is a story worth your time, but the other stories in this volume don’t quite live up to the beauty of that one. Unless, of course, you can find it for fifty cents.