I’ve read The Skinjacker trilogy by Neal Shusterman twice. The first in print; was three small books; pushing my face up against the pages, concentrating so much on just the act of reading that I barely remember anything. The second was in physical braille, ten bulky volumes, fingers gliding over the pages as I relaxedly read and absorbed everything the books were telling me—no headaches from eye strain, only tired arms from hours of reading. These books made me realize just how much easier reading in braille is for me than in print, and I will be reviewing the entire trilogy today.
As is common in Neal Shusterman’s writing, he discusses death and what happens after we die. With this, this series, along with giving me a great example of how much easier braille is for me compared to print, the first book in the series, Everlost, also got me to ALWAYS wear my seatbelt. The series begins with two of the four main characters dying in a car crash; Nick because there weren’t enough seatbelts and Allie because she took hers off to adjust her skirt. You know a series will be crazy when it starts with death and takes place in a limbo-like afterlife, with most of the characters dead. You may ask how much tension you can have when dying, for most of the characters, is taken off the table. Well, this is Neal Shusterman and man, does he do world-building well.
The world of Skinjacker takes place both in our world and not. Most of the characters are ghosts who cannot interact with the living world that surrounds them. Most of the land in this limbo in-between world, if they stand on it for too long, they will sink to the center of the Earth. However, there are bits of the world where this won’t happen, where they can interact without having to worry about sinking land that, like them, is no longer living. “Dead spots,” as they’re called, are places either where someone has died, which are usually small, or something beloved was destroyed. These larger dead spots are based on actual events and/or places, such as the Hindenberg or the Twin Towers. I love that Neal used real history in this series, as it had me looking things up and therefore taught me about more historical events, even ones that are, in the grand scheme of things, unimportant, such as a burnt-down pier in Atlantic City. I love learning about things through books like this. However, dead spots aren’t the only important things in this world.
As Shusterman commonly does, he renames the ghosts in his series, Everlights. However, when Allie and Nick first arrive, like all Afterlights, they’re known as Greensouls. They learn very quickly about the generals of the new world they find themselves in, but in slightly different ways. Allie is a girl of action, making one of the first things she does being to walk onto the street to get someone’s attention, only to have a bus literally phase through her and begin sinking through the concrete, needing assistance to get out. Later, this rush to act doesn’t just harm her but others as well. Although not unlikely to do something, Nick is more contemplative and thinks before he acts. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t get into trouble, though, as he is less likely to act in situations where it would have been better if he had acted sooner and, at least at the start, more susceptible to Mary Hightower’s propaganda.
Mary ends up being the story’s antagonist, the first of which I recall reading who believed that they were right in their beliefs. That’s what makes her such a compelling and yet frustrating antagonist. She is so steadfast that you have to respect her, but you can see how much her actions and inactions are hurting the other Afterlights, whether they know it or not, that she is unwilling to acknowledge. She doesn’t allow them to make their own choices, instead letting her fear control what she tells the kids under her “care” and decide for themselves what they believe. This leads me back to the propaganda I mention earlier.
Propaganda was another thing this series introduced me to because, even before we meet Mary, we get snippets of her books about the world at the end of chapters, and we can tell something’s off about it by what we’ve seen so far with Nick and Allie. Without even being directly told any of this, Neal is educating his readers on how important questioning things is. You need to go out and experience things for yourself and look into what you’re told and shown to see where the person giving you the information got their information from. You need to know things for yourself. We also see how this propaganda affects the world. Many of the characters, mostly unnamed or side-characters, although also Nick for a time, believe what Mary says and writes without question. They think Mary knows everything without exploring or analyzing what they’ve seen compared to what she’s said and written. Though some of what she says is true, when the characters blindly follow her, it’s to Mary’s benefit and others’ detriment. What I also find interesting about this is that Mary does know the truth about some things and is purposely hiding it from others. Just like Mary’s action and inaction regarding her, she lets her fear control what others don’t know and thus, what they do and do not do. For them, it’s not a choice they made. It’s a choice someone made for them without consulting them.
To conclude, this theme of denial and acceptance is McGill; of the first book, who is in denial of not only being dead, his main goal is returning to the living world, but also his true identity. However, unlike Mary, who sticks her heals in and does not open up her mind to change, as the story goes on, McGill’s character arc is learning to move forward from both who he used to be not only in life but in Everlost, and become someone new. It isn’t easy, and it takes time, but he does learn to accept change with grace and become excited for what will come next. This, of course, isn’t where his arc ends in the first book. Not even close. It’s only the beginning.
Like many trilogies; Skinjacker does slow down a bit in terms of action in book two. However, this doesn’t mean the book is bad or boring. Many new characters are introduced, some of which are Skinjackers like Allie, which adds to the havoc that’s caused, and others who have other abilities unique to them. There is also a lot of worldbuilding. These characters, especially Mary and Nick, spend a lot of time traveling around the US, attempting to accomplish their plans or foil the others’. Though it may not seem like it at the time, everything in this book matters to the story, being a small part of what ends up being a very interesting climax.
The slower-paced book two leads to a pretty fast-paced final book. Mary starts acting on her plans, leading Nick and Allie, among others, to do what they can to stop her. These have varying levels of success but always have consequences for both the dead and the living. In the middle of all this, Shusterman is still introducing new characters and new powers, such as being able to rip things right out of the living world or a living person who can perceive Everlost.
Like all fiction should, Shusterman can make you believe things exist because he follows the logic he’s created in the world. There may be things not mentioned or mentioned in passing, but nothing that’ll break your suspension of disbelief. He even works to explain real-world happenings with fictional reasoning, such as things disappearing out of nowhere. Granted, most of the events of Everlost either don’t affect the real world in the book or, if they do, they’re obviously fictional because they didn’t happen in real life (mostly events that happened during the series and not before). However, he still does a great job of making you believe that these things either did or could happen in real life, or at least in some other dimension. That’s what I love about fiction, especially ones that have some base or effect on reality. It takes place, at least in part, in reality, so I don’t just believe that these events are happening in a fictional universe but that they’re happening in *my universe. It’s so immersive, and I LOVE it!
Though this series is a bit slower than most, as it is not action-oriented, and the romance isn’t the strongest point either, it’s still a very enjoyable read. The world is very well thought out; how it merges reality with fantasy is so much fun, and everything fits together so well. The fact that it’s not dystopian is also to its benefit, as it’s harder to predict what will happen. So, if ghosts, alternate and mixed words, and historical fiction interest you, I highly recommend “Everlost, *Everwild, and Everfound, Skinjacker Trilogy by Shusterman.