Born November 12, 1962, in New York, NY; son of Milton and Charlotte Shusterman; married Elaine Jones (a teacher and photographer), January 31, 1987 (divorced); children: Brendan, Jarrod, Joelle, Erin. Education: University of California, Irvine, B.A., 1985. Memberships: PEN, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Writers Guild of America (West). Addresses: Home: Dove Canyon, CA. Office: P.O. Box 18516, Irvine, CA 92623-8516. Agent: Andrea Brown, Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc., 1076 Eagle Dr., Salinas, CA 93905. E-mail: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Screenwriter, playwright, and novelist. Director of educational films, including Heart on a Chain, MTI Film and Video, 1992, and What about the Sisters?, Coronet/MTI, 1994.
Children's Choice, International Reading Association, 1988, for The Shadow Club; American Library Association (ALA) Best Book, 1992, Children's Choice, 1992, and Young Adult Choice, 1993, both International Reading Association, all for What Daddy Did; C.I.N.E. Golden Eagle Award for education, 1994, for What about the Sisters?; Best Books for Reluctant Readers, ALA, 1993, for The Eyes of Kid Midas; Best Books for Reluctant Readers, ALA, 1997, for MindQuakes: Stories to Shatter Your Brain; ALA Quick Pick Top Ten List and Best Book for Young Adults, both 1998, for The Dark Side of Nowhere; Boston Globe--Horn Book Award for fiction, 2005, for The Schwa Was Here, 2015, for Challenger Deep; ALA Top Ten Pick for Reluctant Readers and Best Young Adult Book, 2008, for Unwind; Young Adult Choice, International Reading Association, 2008, and ALA Popular Paperback, 2009, both for Everlost; and ALA/Young Adult Library Services Association Quick Picks, 2011, for Bruiser; National Book Award for young people's literature, 2015, for Challenger Deep.
NOVELS FOR YOUNG ADULTS
- The Shadow Club, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1988.
- Dissidents, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1989.
- Speeding Bullet, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.
- What Daddy Did, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990, reprinted, SSBFYR (New York, NY), 2015.
- The Eyes of Kid Midas (fantasy), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992.
- Piggyback Ninja, illustrated by Joe Boddy, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1994.
- The Dark Side of Nowhere, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996, reprinted, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2012.
- Downsiders, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.
- The Shadow Club Rising (sequel to The Shadow Club), Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
- Full Tilt, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
- Bruiser, HarperTeen (New York, NY), 2010.
- Challenger Deep, illustrated by son Brendan Shusterman, HarperTeen (New York, NY), 2015.
- Chasing Forgiveness, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2015.
- Scythe, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2016.
"STAR SHARDS" YOUNG ADULT TRILOGY
- Scorpion Shards, Forge (New York, NY), 1995, reprinted, Simon & Schuster BFYR (New York, NY), 2013.
- Thief of Souls, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1999, reprinted, Simon & Schuster BFYR (New York, NY), 2013.
- The Shattered Sky, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2002, reprinted, Simon & Schuster BFYR (New York, NY), 2013.
"DARK FUSION" YOUNG ADULT TRILOGY
- Dread Locks, Dutton (New York, NY), 2005.
- Red Rider's Hood, Dutton (New York, NY), 2005.
- Duckling Ugly, Dutton (New York, NY), 2006.
"SKINJACKER" YOUNG ADULT TRILOGY
- Everlost, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2006.
- Everwild, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2009.
- Everfound, Simon & Schuster BFYR (New York, NY), 2011.
"ANTSY" YOUNG ADULT SERIES
- The Schwa Was Here, Dutton (New York, NY), 2004.
- Antsy Does Time, Dutton (New York, NY), 2008.
- Ship out of Luck, Dutton (New York, NY), 2013.
"UNWIND" YOUNG ADULT SERIES
- Unwind, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2007.
- UnWholly, Simon & Schuster BFYR (New York, NY), 2012.
- UnSouled, Simon & Schuster BFYR (New York, NY), 2013.
- UnDivided, Simon & Schuster BFYR (New York, NY), 2014.
- UnBound, Simon & Schuster BFYR (New York, NY), 2015.
"ACCELERATI" YOUNG ADULT SERIES; WITH ERIC ELFMAN
- Tesla's Attic, Disney-Hyperion (Los Angeles, CA), 2014.
- Edison's Alley, Disney-Hyperion (Los Angeles, CA), 2015.
- Tesla's Attic, Disney-Hyperion (Los Angeles, CA), 2016.
- Hawking's Hallway, Disney-Hyperion (Los Angeles, CA), 2016.
"MINDQUAKES" SERIES; SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS FOR YOUNG ADULTS
- MindQuakes: Stories to Shatter Your Brain, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1996.
- MindStorms: Stories to Blow Your Mind, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1996.
- MindTwisters: Stories to Play with Your Head, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1997.
- MindBenders: Stories to Warp Your Brain, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2000.
NONFICTION FOR YOUNG ADULTS
- Just for Boys Presents Guy Talk, illustrated by Peter Walberg, Field Publications, 1987.
- It's O.K. to Say No to Cigarettes and Alcohol! A Parent/Child Manual for the Protection of Children, illustrated by Neal Yamamoto, T. Doherty Associates (New York, NY), 1988.
- (With Cherie Currie) Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story (biography), Price Stern Sloan (Los Angeles, CA), 1989.
- Kid Heroes: True Stories of Rescuers, Survivors, and Achievers, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1991.
- "The Werewolf of Fever Swamp: Part 1,""Night of the Living Dummy III: Part 1,"Goosebumps (series episodes), Fox Kids, 1996.
- "Night of the Living Dummy III: Part 1,"Goosebumps (series episode), Fox Kids, 1997.
- "My Name Is Jake," "My Name Is Jake: Part 2," "Underground," "The Message," "The Capture: Part 1,""The Capture: Part 2," Animorphs (series episodes), Nickelodeon Network, 1998.
- Pixel Perfect (teleplay), Disney Channel, 2004.
- "Pool Shark," "Catching Cold," The Haunting Hour (series episodes), Hub Television Network, 2011.
- (With Sandy Chanley, Tom Bull, and Ron Matsko-Ensel) Heart on a Chain (screenplay), MTI Film and Video, 1991.
- Neal Shusterman's Darkness Creeping: Tales to Trouble Your Sleep (horror short stories), illustrated by Michael Coy, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1993.
- What about the Sisters? (screenplay), Coronet/MTI, 1994.
- Darkness Creeping II: More Tales to Trouble Your Sleep (horror short stories), Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1995.
- Darkness Creeping: Twenty Twisted Tales (horror short stories), Puffin (New York, NY), 2007.
Also author (with Eric Elfman) of film script Class Act. Creator of "How to Host a Mystery" and "How to Host a Murder" games.
Downsiders was optioned for a television movie by the Disney Channel, with a script by Shusterman; Everlost was optioned for film by Universal Studios, with a script by Shusterman; The Schwa Was Here was optioned for film, to be directed by Ron Underwood; Unwind was optioned for film, with a script by Shusterman.
"Writers are a lot like vampires," noted author Neal Shusterman on his home page. "A vampire will never come into your house, unless invited--and once you invite one in, he'll grab you by the throat, and won't let you go. A writer's much the same." Shusterman, an award-winning author of books for young adults, screenplays, stage plays, music, and games, works in genres ranging from biography and realistic fiction to fantastic mystery, science fiction, and thriller. Following the publication of Dissidents, Shusterman's third book, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor Roger Sutton called the author "a strong storyteller and a significant new voice in YA fiction." Lyle Blake, writing in School Library Journal, found The Eyes of Kid Midas to be "inspired and hypnotically readable." In his many books for young readers, including his popular "Dark Fusion" series for older teens, Shusterman acts the part of benevolent vampire, "feeding on your turmoil, as well as feeding on your peace," as the author explained on his home page.
It was this power of books not only to entertain and inform but to totally captivate that Shusterman himself experienced as a young reader. At age ten, Shusterman, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, went off to summer camp. One particular book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, which he discovered in the rafters of one of the cabins, swept him away in time and place, as did Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory not long after. "I remember wishing that I could create something as imaginative," Shusterman said on his home page. Writing his own stories came soon thereafter; inspired by the movie Jaws, he wrote the scenario of a similarly beleaguered small town, substituting giant sand worms for the shark.
As a teen Shusterman moved with his family to Mexico City, Mexico, where he finished high school, and then went on to the University of California, Irvine, where he earned a degree in drama and psychology and set out to write his own novels. Returning to the same summer camp he had attended as a boy--now as a counselor--he tried out his stories on youthful ears and left another copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull in the rafters for some other imaginative youth to discover. At age twenty-two he became the youngest syndicated columnist in the country when his humor column was picked up by Syndicated Writer's Group.
Shusterman gained extensive recognition for his first novel, The Shadow Club, published in 1988. It tells the story of seven middle-school friends who grow tired of living in the shadows of their rivals. Each one is second-best at something, and they form a secret club to get back at the students who are number one. At first they restrict their activities to harmless practical jokes like putting a snake in an actress's thermos or filling a trumpet player's horn with green slime. Before long, however, their pranks become more destructive and violent. The mystery involves whether the members of the club have unleashed "a power that feeds on a previously hidden cruel or evil side of their personalities," wrote David Gale in School Library Journal, or whether another student has been responsible for the more dangerous actions. In Voice of Youth Advocates, Lesa M. Holstine predicted that the book would be popular with young adults, since it would likely resemble their own experience with "rivalries and constantly changing friendships." A long-awaited sequel, The Shadow Club Rising, was published in 2002.
In Dissidents, Derek is a rebellious fifteen-year-old who is shipped off to Moscow to live with his disinterested mother, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, after his father dies in a car accident. Derek misses his father, hates all the restrictions of his new life, has trouble making friends at school, and acts out his frustrations in wild behavior. He soon becomes fascinated with Anna, the daughter of an exiled Soviet dissident, after he sees her in a television interview. Anna's mother is dying, and Derek comes up with a scheme to reunite her with her father. Although a Publishers Weekly contributor found Shusterman's portrayal of U.S.-Soviet relations "simplistic," the reviewer went on to praise the book as "a briskly paced, intriguing" adventure. Kristiana Gregory, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, called Dissidents "an excellent glimpse of life on the other side of the globe."
According to Horn Book reviewer Ellen Fader, Speeding Bullet treats readers to a "gritty, fast-paced, and, at times, funny" tale. Nick is an angst-ridden tenth-grader who does poorly in school and has no luck with girls. His life changes dramatically one day when, without thinking, he puts himself in danger to rescue a little girl who is about to be hit by a subway train. He becomes a hero and is thanked personally by the mayor of New York City. Nick then decides to make saving people his mission in life, and before long he also rescues an old man from a burning building. His newfound celebrity status gets the attention of Linda, the beautiful but deceitful daughter of a wealthy developer, and the two begin dating. Nick continues rescuing people, but he soon discovers that Linda has set up the situations and paid actors to portray people in distress. His next real rescue attempt results in Nick being shot, but he recovers and ends up with a better outlook on life. In School Library Journal, Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst called Shusterman's book "a complex, multilayered novel" that would provide young adults with "much material for contemplation," while a writer for Publishers Weekly found it "a fast-paced modern parable with compelling characters and true-to-life dialogue."
Shusterman's book What Daddy Did is based on a true story. It is presented as the diary of fourteen-year-old Preston, whose father killed his mother during a heated argument. It details Preston's complex emotions as he deals with the tragedy, learns to live without his parents, and then struggles with his father's release from prison. Preston finally comes to forgive his father and even serves as best man when his father remarries. Dorothy M. Broderick, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, called What Daddy Did "a compelling, spellbinding story of a family gone wrong," adding that it might inspire young adults to "actually stop and think about their own relationship with their parents." Though Gerry Larson commented in School Library Journal that "too many issues are not sufficiently resolved" in the book, Rita M. Fontinha wrote in Kliatt that it "is an important book for many reasons: violence, love, faith, growth, denial, forgiveness are all explored and resolved."
In The Eyes of Kid Midas Shusterman takes a fantasy situation and shows the frightening consequences as it spins out of control. Kevin Midas, the smallest kid in the seventh grade, is continually picked on by class bullies and annoyed by his family at home. Then he climbs to the top of a mysterious hill on a school trip and finds a magical pair of sunglasses that make all his wishes come true. At first, he uses the sunglasses for simple things such as making an ice cream cone appear in his hand or making a bully jump into a lake. Over time he becomes addicted to the power, even though he realizes that his wishes can be dangerous and irreversible. When even his dreams start turning into reality and no one seems to notice that anything is out of the ordinary besides him, Kevin must find a way to return things to normal before it is too late. Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Judith A. Sheriff stated that events in the novel "provide much for thought and discussion, yet do not get in the way of a well-told and intriguing story." Writing in the Wilson Library Bulletin, Frances Bradburn noted that "Shusterman has written a powerful fantasy based on every adolescent's desire to control his or her life," while a contributor to Publishers Weekly called the book both "imaginative and witty" and one that "convincingly proves the dangers of the narcissistic ethos of having it all."
The Dark Side of Nowhere, a science-fiction thriller, finds teenager Jason feeling trapped in his small town until he discovers an awful secret about himself. Jason undergoes an identity crisis and a crucial choice after discovering that he is the son of aliens who stayed on Earth following an unsuccessful invasion. In Booklist Carolyn Phelan noted that the novel contains "a fast-paced story, giving Jason many vivid, original turns of phrase." A writer for Kirkus Reviews felt that "Shusterman delivers a tense thriller that doesn't duck larger issues" and "seamlessly combines gritty, heart-stopping plotting with a wealth of complex issues." School Library Journal contributor Bruce Anne Shook concluded that The Dark Side of Nowhere serves up "great science fiction."
With Downsiders Shusterman again skirts the boundaries between reality and science fiction/fantasy. Talon is a young New Yorker with a difference. His people live underground--the "Downsiders" of the title--in the sewers and subways beneath the city. His people never mix with "Topsiders" until Talon falls for Lindsay. But their fragile romance is threatened when Lindsay's father, a city engineer, is working on an underground aqueduct and one of Talon's friends denounces him for his collaboration with the Topsiders. The book contains "sophisticated social satire," wrote Shook in a School Library Journal review of the book. Although Shook acknowledged "a few weak spots," the critic went on to call Downsiders "an exciting and entertaining story that will please fans of adventure, science fiction, and fantasy." Janice M. Del Negro, reviewing the title for Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, commented specifically on the "quick and suspenseful" pace of the novel and on the "believable underground culture" that Shusterman creates. The novelist "twines suspense and satire through this ingenious tale," wrote a contributor to Kirkus Reviews, summarizing Downsiders as a "cleverly envisioned romp."
A "surreal, scary fantasy, packed with suspenseful psychological drama," according to Booklist contributor Ed Sullivan, Full Tilt finds sixteen-year-old Blake embroiled in a mystery after he receives an invitation from a beautiful young woman. The invitation is to a private carnival, and when Blake's older brother Quinn goes in Blake's stead, he winds up in a comatose state. When Blake learns that Quinn has lost his very soul, he must endure a test that includes seven horrifying carnival rides, all of which tap into his deepest childhood fears. Full Tilt "will have readers glued to the pages," concluded Paula Rohrlick in Kliatt, who also noted the book's "clever dialogue and ... carnival ride action."
In his 2010 novel, Bruiser, Shusterman explores the implications of one character's ability to absorb the physical and psychological pains of those he loves. Teenager Brewster Rawlins appears to be a big, antisocial bad boy, but when Bronte Sternberger begins to date him, she learns that he loves poetry. As she and her twin brother, Tennyson, become better acquainted with Brewster, they notice their everyday scrapes healing with unexpected speed, while Brewster suffers many new injuries. According to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, the novel is "wrenching but ultimately redemptive." Concluded the reviewer: "Shusterman spins a fantastic tale that sheds light on everyday life." Lynn Rutan in Booklist considered Bruiser "thought-provoking." She found a pivotal crisis "a bit convenient" but maintained that "the compelling issues and engaging premise make this a rewarding read." Writing for the Voice of Youth Advocates, Victoria Vogel said that "Shusterman's writing is wonderful and a joy to read." She commented that the book's shifting viewpoints make it "a bit frustrating at times," but like Rutan she summed it up as "compelling and thought-provoking."
The 2015 book Challenger Deep features a fifteen-year-old boy named Caden Bosch. Caden suffers from schizophrenia, and he often believes he is on ship that is sailing to Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the Marianas trench. Caden speaks often with the crew and the captain, and his delusions are occasionally broken by moments of clarity. Eventually, Caden begins to realize that the ship's crew occasionally resembles his friends and family. After Caden is sent to a psychiatric hospital, his doctors and fellow patients also morph into crewmembers. Notably, the story is filled with illustrations by the author's schizophrenic son, Brendan Shusterman. Brendan's drawings were made during a psychotic episode, underscoring the interplay between reality and fantasy.
Sharing his inspiration for the story in a Horn Book Online interview with Elissa Gershowitz, Shusterman remarked: "When my son was in high school, he began to show signs of mental illness. In the depths of it, when he couldn't tell the difference between what was real and what was in his mind, in a moment of despair, he said to me, 'Sometimes it feels like I'm at the bottom of the ocean screaming at the top of my lungs and no one can hear me.' That's when I knew what Challenger Deep had to be about. I held on to the idea for six years before I began writing it." As Deirdre F. Baker noted in Horn Book, "Caden's narrative is all the more engulfing because of the abundant wit and creativity evident in the eccentric specifics of his perceptions." A Publishers Weekly critic was also impressed, asserting that Challenger Deep "turns symptoms into lived reality in ways readers won't easily forget." According to Jennifer Bruer Kitchel in BookPage, "Challenger Deep is difficult to read at times ... but it is also extremely compelling and hard to resist. Shusterman is a master storyteller and it shows."
Humor and reality also mix in the novels The Schwa Was Here and Antsy Does Time, both of which focus on quick-witted Brooklyn middle-schooler Antsy Bonano. In The Schwa Was Here, Antsy and his friends befriend a shy boy named Calvin Schwa and become fascinated by Calvin's ability to be totally overlooked in most social situations. A scheme is hatched to take advantage of their new friend's talent, but when it goes too far the boys must endure a punishment that ultimately yields Antsy a new friend. When friend Gunnar is diagnosed with a fatal disease, Antsy signs over four weeks of his own life to the boy in Antsy Does Time. A date with Gunnar's attractive sister is a surprising result, but Antsy's unselfish act also has more annoying consequences. In Booklist John Peters described Shusterman's young hero as a teen "whose glib tongue and big heart are as apt to get him into trouble as out of it," while Horn Book critic Sarah Ellis called Antsy "a fresh and winning amalgam of smart aleck and schlemiel." Shusterman's young characters "are infused with the kind of controlled, precocious improbability that magically vivifies the finest children's classics," concluded Jeffrey Hastings in a School Library Journal review of The Schwa Was Here.
Antsy's adventures continue in Ship out of Luck, and the series protagonist is about to turn eighteen. To celebrate, Old Man Crawley invites Antsy and his family to take a cruise on the Plethora of the Deep. The five-star cruise ship is headed to the Caribbean. Antsy's sister, Lexie, even brings her service dog, Moxie, along. The group sets sail over Fourth of July weekend, and Antsy's falls for a girl named Tilde while onboard. Unfortunately, Tilde has a few criminal plans in mind, and she wants Antsy to join in her endeavors. Will Antsy avoid trouble before it's too late?
Lauding the story in Voice of Youth Advocates, Christina Miller remarked: "Though sometimes a bit far-fetched, Ship out of Luck is suspenseful and humorous and ... chock full of idioms, metaphors and analogies." Bradburn, writing in Booklist commended Ship out of Luck, calling it "a funny Shusterman romp that plays right into the latest cruise ship disaster stories." Offering further applause in Kirkus Reviews, a columnist advised that the story "is full of sharp quips and amusing observations, is beautifully constructed and contains a meticulously foreshadowed yet completely surprising plot twist."
In Scorpion Shards, Shusterman takes special powers one step beyond, enlisting the science-fiction/fantasy genre and the realms of the supernatural for his three-part "Star Shards" series. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that in the series debut "Shusterman takes on an outlandish comic-book concept and, through the sheer audacity and breadth of his imagination, makes it stunningly believable." In Scorpion Shards six teens are outcasts because of the usual afflictions of adolescence, such as acne, obesity, and the fear of being different. However, the exaggerated sense of their problems is also accompanied by something special: supernatural powers. Tory's acne causes her to taint everything she touches; Travis likes to break things and ultimately destroys several homes in a landslide. Soon these six divide into two groups: those who want to get rid of such powers and those who wish to cultivate them. "This is a classic story about the battle between [good] and evil made especially gripping as the teenagers struggle with opposing forces literally within themselves," wrote Kliatt contributor Donna L. Scanlon. In Booklist, Bill Ott noted that "with all the symbols, metaphors, archetypes--so much meaning--clanging around in this book, it's hard for the characters to draw a breath." However, Ott went on to note of Scorpion Shards that "the horror story is suspenseful and compelling."
The second novel in the "Star Shards" trilogy, Thief of Souls, follows five of the teens who have discovered the origins of their superhuman powers. Although they have attempted to live normal lives, Dianna, Tory, Lourdes, Winston, and Michael are now drawn to San Simeon, California, by their sixth companion, Dillon, and enlisted to become what a reviewer for Publishers Weekly described as "misguided miracle workers." "Echoes of classical and Christian mythology reverberate throughout this tale of fallible messiahs and fallen creatures," noted the reviewer, "giving it an uncommonly solid subtext." Jackie Cassada, reviewing Thief of Souls in Library Journal, commented that Shusterman's "economy of style and bare-bones characterization propel his tale to its climax with few distractions."
The futuristic "Star Shards" series concludes with The Shattered Sky, which focuses on the battle between the six teens and an evil soul eater, Okoya. Now Earth is invaded by three Vectors, travelers from another dimension that survive extinction by feasting on souls. Okoya is kin to these new invaders, and he is worried that he will be killed by his alien comrades should the invasion succeed. Okoya attempts to strike a bargain with Dillon, one of the most powerful shards and one of the few who has not been compromised. Noting that The Shattered Sky is "not for the squeamish" due to its graphic descriptions, a Publishers Weekly critic nonetheless wrote that the book's "strong themes of morality, vengeance and the emotional cost of great power should intrigue thoughtful readers."
A second novel trilogy, Shusterman's "Dark Fusion" series, weaves traditional folk stories and mythology into its plots. In series opener Dread Locks, readers meet wealthy, overindulged fourteen-year-old Parker Baer. When beautiful, golden-haired Brit Tara Herpecheveux and her family move in next door, Parker is fascinated, and although Tara has some odd habits, she quickly becomes one of the most sought-after friends at school. Her new friends, however, all contract a strange illness that eventually turns them to stone. Noting that Shusterman's novel presents an "updated melding" of the Goldilocks story and the tale of the legendary Medusa, Rohrlick in Kliatt deemed Dread Locks "a fast-moving, spine-chilling story" mixing both horror and fantasy. In School Library Journal Molly S. Kinney wrote that "most books of this genre rarely deliver a message so powerfully," and in Booklist Debbie Carton dubbed Dread Locks a "fast-paced, short read [that] will be a big hit with fans of Daren Shan."
The "Dark Fusion" series continues with Red Rider's Hood and Duckling Ugly, both of which draw on the dark side of traditional fairy stories. In Red Rider's Hood the story of Little Red Riding Hood blends with the werewolf legend in the author's tale of a street-smart urban teen who infiltrates a gang called the Wolves in order to avenge his grandmother's mugging but finds that a strange force is drawing him toward accepting the gang's nocturnal lifestyle. In Duckling Ugly, Shusterman weaves a fictional mix that includes strands of "The Ugly Duckling," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Sleeping Beauty" in his story about Cara de Fido, a teen whose ugly appearance and odd behaviors make her an outcast among her peers. Cara still has normal teen feelings, however, and that includes a crush on a handsome boy. When she is rejected, the teen runs away, determined to find her destiny even though it may cause suffering to others. In School Library Journal Sharon Rawlins called Duckling Ugly "a dark, edgy, and suspenseful tale," and Rohrlick wrote in Kliatt that Red Rider's Hood "features lots of action and creepy details," making it attractive to reluctant readers.
Shusterman began another series, called the "Skinjacker" trilogy, with his 2006 novel Everlost, which finds two teens trapped together in a strange limbo world after dying in a car accident. Shusterman's "action-packed plot moves quickly," noted Susan Dove Lempke in her Horn Book review, "and the characters grow and change as they learn to cope with their new existence."
The "Skinjacker" trilogy continues with Everwild, in which Shusterman further develops the conflicts between Alice Hightower, an Everlost resident who wants to keep as many children as possible there with her, and Nick, who is also known as the Chocolate Ogre and who seeks to release denizens into the light. The author also delves into the ways of Skinjackers--Everlost residents who are there because of coma rather than death and can take over the bodies of other living people. "Shusterman has created a new way to be undead," wrote Eric Norton in the School Library Journal, summarizing Everwild as "a perfect read for the spooky time of the year." Lempke described the novel in Horn Book as an "unusual but hard-to-follow story," adding that it is "thought-provoking and scary." A Kirkus Reviews contributor thought it "a fascinating read penned by an expert hand."
Everfound escalates Mary's efforts to annihilate the living world and introduces a character capable of causing eternal death. Cheryl Clark in the Voice of Youth Advocates felt that "Shusterman has worked his usual literary magic in this fantastic finale." Acknowledging that it is "vivid," Andy Sawyer in School Librarian expressed the concern that Everfound is "rather less than the sum of its imaginative parts" while also taking note of its "gripping subplots" and "poignant moments." Highlighting the novel's "skillfully written dialogue" and "impressively built world," Sam Bloom in the School Library Journal perceived some "shortcomings" in the work, which he nevertheless maintained "shouldn't be too much of a bother" to series fans. "Rich in detail, with exceptional characterization ... this is an engrossing and thoroughly satisfying ending to a unique saga," in the opinion of a Kirkus Reviews contributor.
Unwind, a near-future fable inspired by the abortion debate that finds unwanted children over age thirteen relegated to use as a collection of harvest-ready body parts through a process known as retroactive pregnancy termination. When Connor, Lev, and Risa are scheduled for "unwinding," the teens escape in the hope that they can find a place to safely live out their natural lives. In Unwind, the author "manages to create and balance three separate and compelling journeys of self-discovery," according to Claire E. Gross in her Horn Book review of the novel, and in School Library Journal Amy J. Chow praised the book's "gripping, omniscient" narration. Commenting on the provocative premise underlining Unwind, Ned Vizzini wrote in his New York Times Book Review that "ultimately, ... the power of the novel lies in what it doesn't do: come down explicitly on one side or the other" of the socially sanctioned taking of human life.
Unwind serves as the first installment of an eponymous series, and the second installment UnWholly, begins as Connor, Lev, and Risa continue to maintain and protect the underground unwinds safe houses. Some of the heroes' charges actually want to turn themselves in, but Connor, Lev, and Risa can't afford to let them go; they might betray their safe house locations. In the meantime, the government is chasing after resistors like Connor, Lev, and Risa, and pirates are snatching up runaway unwinds to sell them on the black market. When a schizophrenic composite human named Cam (comprised of parts from ninety-nine unwound teens) enters the picture, everything changes.
UnWholly largely feared well with critics, and April Spisak in Horn Book found that "Shusterman elegantly balances the strikingly different perspectives of the three main protagonists effectively." Jennifer M. Miskec, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, was equally laudatory, and she declared that the Connor's, Rev's, and Lisa's "various perspectives intensify the complex systems the protagonists are working against." Miskec went on to conclude: "Smart, intense, and thought provoking, this series will stick with readers." As a Kirkus Reviews critic put it, UnWholly is set in a "disturbing, dystopic and dangerous future world," making for "a breathless, unsettling read."
The "Unwind" series continues with UnSouled and UnDivided. The latter installment opens as Lev tries to get the Arapache council to let unwinding refugees live on Chancefolk land. Connor and Risa are running from an ex-Juvey cop named Nelson. He will stop at nothing to capture Connor and make sure he is unwound. Cam also appears in the story, and he embarks on a quest to get revenge against the company that caused his unwinding.
Applauding UnDivided in her Voice of Youth Advocates assessment, Jennifer M. Miskec advised that "the popularity of this series is warranted: it is smart, it is dark, it is riveting, and the characters are drawn with respect." Peters, writing again in Booklist, proffered praise as well, announcing that "Shusterman expertly brings together a series of crises, betrayals, escapes, self-sacrifices, and desperate ploys." Indeed, Claire E. Gross in Horn Book felt that Shusterman achieves "an impressive juggling act" that is "ambitious, insightful, and devastating."
Shusterman's novel Scythe is also set in a future dystopian world where human society has been transformed significantly. At first glance, the Earth of the novel would seem to be a utopia. The global information network known today as the cloud has achieved sentience and has evolved into the Thunderhead--certainly a more powerful and menacing cloud. However, under the Thunderhead's benevolent but totalitarian rule, poverty, crime, disease, and other human ills have been eliminated. This has created a situation in which population growth continues, but must be kept in check. It is here that the Scythes of the novel's title come in: they are a worldwide organization of neutral assassins who keep the population numbers under control by randomly "gleaning" citizens--killing them.
Protagonists Citra Tarranova and Rowan Damisch, sixteen years old, are chosen to become Scythes. They will train for a year and, at the end of that period, only one of them will become a Scythe. Being chosen even to compete is supposed to be an honor. After all, Scythes are feared but treated like royalty, and they are supposed to represent the pinnacle of human achievement. Despite this, the two teens aren't enthusiastic becoming Scythes. They become apprentices to other Scythes, but soon discover a frightening truth: at the end of their training period, the winner will be forced to glean the other. With their lives at stake, Citra and Rowan must find a way to survive the competition and its inevitable results.
Shusterman "starts off this series in dramatic fashion as he creates an engrossing world that pulls readers in and refuses to let them go," commented Tyler Hixson in a School Library Journal review. "In Shusterman's hands, Scythe is both YA dystopia and literary fiction, masterfully blending the best aspects of both genres while neatly sidestepping the trappings of both," observed a reviewer on the Web site Book Smugglers. A Kirkus Reviews writer called the novel a "thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning." A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded, "This powerful tale is guaranteed to make readers think deeply."
In addition to novels, Shusterman also explores the supernatural with the short stories in his "MindQuakes" series--including MindQuakes: Stories to Shatter Your Brain, MindStorms: Stories to Blow Your Mind, MindTwisters: Stories to Play with Your Head, and MindBenders: Stories to Warp Your Brain--as well as books such as Darkness Creeping: Twenty Twisted Tales. The "MindQuakes" books are guaranteed to "snare even reluctant readers," according to a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Reviewing the second installment in the series, MindStorms, Scanlon noted in Kliatt that "these stories range from humorous to poignant and capture the reader's imagination," while in their "quirky, off-the-wall" style they resemble the Twilight Zone television series. A contributor to Voice of Youth Advocates, writing about MindTwisters, warned readers to "prepare to have your mind twisted and your reality warped by this exciting collection of weird tales," while School Library Journal critic Mara Alpert dubbed Darkness Creeping "extremely readable and elegantly creepy."
Shusterman has also written for television and film, as well as directed educational short films. In all of his ventures, he takes the creative process and its responsibilities to heart. "I often think about the power of the written word," he explained on his home page. "Being a writer is like being entrusted with ... or, more accurately stealing the power of flames, and then sling-shotting it into the air to see who catches fire. I think writers have a responsibility not to launch those fireballs indiscriminately, although occasionally we do. Still, what a power to find yourself responsible for, because words can change the world. I've always felt that stories aimed at adolescents and teens are the most important stories that can be written, because it is adolescence that defines who we are going to be."
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
- Booklist, February 1, 1996, Bill Ott, review of Scorpion Shards, p. 926; April 1, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Dark Side of Nowhere, p. 1322; May 15, 2003, Ed Sullivan, review of Full Tilt, p. 1656; December 1, 2004, Frances Bradburn, review of The Schwa Was Here, p. 648; June 1, 2005, Debbie Carton, review of Dread Locks, p. 1792; September 15, 2006, Holly Koelling, review of Everlost, p. 57; May 15, 2007, Jennifer Mattson, review of Darkness Creeping: Twenty Twisted Tales, p. 60; September 1, 2008, John Peters, review of Antsy Does Time, p. 96; May 1, 2010, Lynn Rutan, review of Bruiser, p. 76; May 1, 2011, Cindy Dobrez, review of Everfound, p. 88; July 1, 2012, John Peters, review of UnWholly, p. 64; June 1, 2013, Frances Bradburn, review of Ship out of Luck, p. 94; January 1, 2014, Magan Szwarek, review of Tesla's Attic, p. 114; September 15, 2014, John Peters, review of UnDivided, p. 56; February 1, 2015, Jennifer Barnes, review of Challenger Deep, p. 47.
- BookPage, May, 2015, Jennifer Bruer Kitchel, review of Challenger Deep, p. 27.
- Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1989, Roger Sutton, review of Dissidents, p. 264; September, 1999, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Downsiders, p. 31; July-August, 2010, Kate Quealy-Gainer, review of Bruiser, p. 500.
- Children's Bookwatch, October, 2011, review of Everfound; May, 2015, review of Edison's Alley.
- Horn Book, May-June, 1991, Ellen Fader, review of Speeding Bullet, p. 340; June 1, 2005, Debbie Carton, review of Dread Locks, p. 1792; December, 2006, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Everlost, p. 725; March-April, 2008, Claire E. Gross, review of Unwind, p. 219; September-October, 2008, Sarah Ellis, review of Antsy Does Time, p. 597; January-February, 2010, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Everwild, p. 93; September.-October, 2012, April Spisak, review of UnWholly, p. 105; July-August, 2013, Sarah Ellis, review of Ship out of Luck, p. 147; March-April, 2014, April Spisak, review of UnSouled, p. 128; March-April, 2014, Sam Bloom, review of Tesla's Attic, p. 129; November-December, 2014, Claire E. Gross, review of UnDivided, p. 109; March-April, 2015, Deirdre F. Baker, review of Challenger Deep, p. 109; May-June, 2015, Sam Bloom, review of Edison's Alley, p. 118; November-December, 2016, Anita L. Burkam, review of Scythe, p. 87.
- Horn Book Guide, spring, 2010, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Everwild, p. 108; spring, 2011, Hannah Rodgers Barnaby, review of Bruiser, p. 112; fall, 2011, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Everfound, p. 397.
- Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, October, 2001, Sally Emery, review of Downsiders, p. 173.
- Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1997, review of The Dark Side of Nowhere, p. 468; June 1, 1999, review of Downsiders, p. 889; April 15, 2002, review of The Shattered Sky, p. 533; October 1, 2004, review of The Schwa Was Here, p. 969; January 15, 2006, review of Duckling Ugly, p. 90; October 1, 2009, review of Everwild; June 15, 2010, review of Bruiser; April 15, 2011, review of Everfound; July 15, 2012, review of UnWholly; May 1, 2013, review of Ship out of Luck; October 1, 2013, review of UnSouled;; December 15, 2013, review of Tesla's Attic; September 15, 2014, review of UnDivided; February 1, 2015, review of Challenger Deep; November 15, 2015, review of UnBound; August 15, 2016, review of Scythe.
- Kliatt, May, 1993, Rita M. Fontinha, review of What Daddy Did, p. 10; January, 1997, Donna L. Scanlon, reviews of Scorpion Shards, pp. 10-11, and MindStorms: Stories to Blow Your Mind, p. 16; May, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Full Tilt, p. 14; May, 2005, Paula Rohrlick, review of Dread Locks, p. 18; November, 2005, Paula Rohrlick, review of Red Rider's Hood, p. 10; September, 2006, Paula Rohrlick, review of Everlost, p. 18.
- Library Journal, March 15, 1999, Jackie Cassada, review of Thief of Souls, p. 113; July 15, 2002, Jackie Cassada, review of The Shattered Sky, p. 99.
- Library Media Connection, October, 2010, Ruth Cox Clark, review of Bruiser, p. 81.
- Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 23, 1989, Kristiana Gregory, review of Dissidents, p. 11.
- New York Times Book Review, March 16, 2008, Ned Vizzini, "Young and in the Way," p. 15.
- Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1989, review of Dissidents, p. 296; December 14, 1990, review of Speeding Bullet, p. 67; November 16, 1992, review of The Eyes of Kid Midas, p. 65; December 4, 1995, review of Scorpion Shards, p. 63; May 27, 1996, review of MindQuakes: Stories to Shatter Your Brain, p. 79; February 8, 1999, review of Thief of Souls, p. 199; April 8, 2002, review of The Shattered Sky, p. 210; November 26, 2007, review of Unwind, p. 54; June 28, 2010, review of Bruiser, p. 131; December 2, 2013, review of Tesla's Attic, p. 84; February 16, 2015, review of Challenger Deep, p. 182; December 2, 2015, review of Challenger Deep, p. 89; December 2, 2016, review of Scythe, p. 113.
- School Librarian, winter, 2011, Andy Sawyer, review of Everfound, p. 249; spring, 2013, Stephen King, review of UnWholly, p. 57.
- School Library Journal, May, 1988, David Gale, review of The Shadow Club, p. 113; February, 1991, Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, review of Speeding Bullet, p. 94; June, 1991, Gerry Larson, review of What Daddy Did, p. 128; December, 1992, Lyle Blake, review of The Eyes of Kid Midas, p. 133; July, 1997, Bruce Anne Shook, review of The Dark Side of Nowhere, p. 9; July, 1999, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Downsiders, p. 100; October, 2004, Jeffrey Hastings, review of The Schwa Was Here, p. 176; June, 2005, Molly S. Kinney, review of Dread Locks, p. 169; December, 2005, Kimberly L. Paone, review of Red Rider's Hood, p. 155; July, 2006, Sharon Rawlins, review of Duckling Ugly, p. 112; July, 2007, Mara Alpert, review of Darkness Creeping, p. 111; January, 2008, Amy J. Chow, review of Unwind, p. 126; December, 2009, Eric Norton, review of Everwild, p. 132; August, 2010, Amy S. Pattee, review of Bruiser, p. 112; June, 2011, Sam Bloom, review of Everfound, p. 136; September, 2012, Anthony C. Doyle, review of UnWholly, p. 156; July, 2013, Liz Overberg, review of Ship out of Luck, p. 86; December, 2013, Kristyn Dorfman, review of UnSouled, p. 136; March, 2014, Vicki Reutter, review of Tesla's Attic, p. 148; October, 2014, Kristyn Dorfman, review of UnDivided, p. 123; February, 2015, Heather Miller Cover, review of Challenger Deep, p. 108; March, 2015, review of Edison's Alley, p. 167; November 19, 2015, Rocco Staino, "Neal Shusterman Takes NBA Prize for Challenger Deep;" January, 2016, Kelly Jo Lasher, review of UnBound, p. 102; October, 2016, Tyler Hixson, review of Scythe, p. 115.
- Times of Israel, November 26, 2015, Beth Kissileff, "Jewish Father's Book on Mental Illness Wins Award," profile of Neal Shusterman.
- Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1988, Lesa M. Holstine, review of The Shadow Club, p. 90; June, 1991, Dorothy M. Broderick, review of What Daddy Did, p. 103; February, 1993, Judith A. Sheriff, review of The Eyes of Kid Midas, p. 358; April, 1998, review of MindTwisters: Stories to Play with Your Head, p. 14; February, 2010, Cheryl Clark, review of Everwild, p. 512; August, 2010, Victoria Vogel, review of Bruiser, p. 272; June, 2011, Erica Alexander and Cheryl Clark, review of Everfound, p. 192; August, 2012, Jennifer M. Miskec, review of UnWholly, p. 286; August, 2013, Christina Miller, review of Ship out of Luck, p. 68; February, 2015, Jennifer M. Miskec, review of UnDivided, p. 83; April. 2015, Lisa A. Hazlett, review of Challenger Deep, p. 70; April, 2015, Jonatha Basye, review of Edison's Alley, p. 83.
- Wilson Library Bulletin, March, 1993, Frances Bradburn, review of The Eyes of Kid Midas, p. 85.
- Book Smugglers, http://www.thebooksmugglers.com/ (February 20, 2017), review of Scythe.
- Horn Book Online, http://www.hbook.com/ (March 9, 2015), Elissa Gershowitz, author interview.
- Neal Shusterman Home Page, http://www.storyman.com (February 20, 2017).*