53 pages 1 hour read

Neal Shusterman


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2006

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Summary and Study Guide


Best-selling and award-winning novelist Neal Shusterman published the fantasy novel Everlost in 2006. It is the first novel in the young adult Skinjacker trilogy, which also includes Everwild (2009) and Everfound (2011). Everlost explores what might lie between life and death and incorporates a rich cast of characters, all of whom are children. The novel has won multiple awards and distinctions, including being included among the 2009 Garden State Teen Book Award nominees and the 2008 School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, as well as winning the award for the 2008 VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers. Throughout the novel, Shusterman explores themes like good and evil, identity and belonging, and Friendship and Loyalty.

In Part 1, 14-year-olds Nick and Allie die in a head-on collision on a mountain road in Upstate New York and become Afterlights: spirits stuck between this life and the afterlife. They wake up to find an 11-year-old boy, whom they name Lief, watching them. Lief tries to teach them about Everlost and why they are there. He also warns them about a monster called the McGill. Allie decides that they should try to go home, so she and Nick walk to New York City, leaving Lief behind because he is afraid to leave his forest. On the way, the kids run into Johnnie-O and his gang of Altar Boys, who search them for valuable objects but discard the faceless coin they find in Nick’s pocket, believing it to be worthless. (As it later transpires, the coins are far from worthless; every child who enters Everlost has one, and they are the key to finally leaving this strange half-world.) The siblings narrowly escape, thanks to Lief’s sudden appearance, and all three characters arrive safely in New York.

In Part 2, Nick, Allie, and Lief meet Mary Hightower, the leader of the Afterlights in New York. Mary lives in Tower One of the World Trade Center, which shocks Nick and Allie because they know that terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers on 9/11. Mary explains how objects and places can cross over into this place from the living world and gives the siblings books that she has written to help children learn the rules of Everlost. Although the books teach them many useful things, they also claim that the faceless coins are useless, and that fortune cookies are dangerous and should be avoided. Nick and Lief quickly settle into their new environment, but Allie knows that something is wrong and doesn’t trust Mary. Allie becomes particularly concerned when she notices that all the Afterlights perform the same daily routine, trapped in a rut that they cannot escape. She wants to leave New York, but Allie first takes Nick and Lief to the Haunter to see if she has any of the unique talents some Afterlights have, such as “skinjacking,” a process through which an Afterlight can inhabit a living body. When the Haunter captures the two boys, Allie returns to Mary for help, but Mary refuses to endanger any other Afterlights. Allie then recruits Johnnie-O and the Altar Boys to help her defeat the Haunter, only to discover that the McGill has taken Nick and Lief away.

Part 3 opens with Allie stealing onto the McGill’s ship, the Marine Sulphur Queen. Once aboard, Allie learns that the McGill is a grotesque monster who has kidnapped almost 1,000 Afterlights, hoping to return to the living world to fulfill a fortune he read in a fortune cookie. Lief and Nick are trapped, hanging upside down with hundreds of other Afterlights below deck, so Allie must find a way to rescue them. Allie refuses to act afraid or horrified by the McGill. He orders her to teach him how to skinjack, so she makes up a twelve-step process to buy herself some time to rescue her friends. In this process, Allie earns the monster’s trust, and the McGill begins to care about Allie. Meanwhile, Nick finds a way to escape and tells Allie he’s going to Mary for help. When the McGill discovers Allie’s lies and betrayal, he orders his crew to hang her upside down with the other Afterlights. The McGill uses another fortune cookie to direct him where to go next: Atlantic City.

In Part 4, Nick returns to Manhattan and convinces Mary to fight the McGill and rescue the kidnapped Afterlights. Nick and Mary catch a ride to Atlantic City in the Hindenburg. The McGill parks his ship between the two ghost piers and demands his salvation in exchange for the Afterlights. He watches the zeppelin approach and sees Mary disembark. Mary shows the McGill a picture of himself, and he turns back into her brother, Mikey. The group of Afterlights attack Mikey, and his crew abandons him. Allie leaves the former monster to his fate and skinjacks a 19-year-old jogger running along the boardwalk. Mikey escapes from the mob, mounts a famous diving horse, and follows Allie, angered by her betrayal. Mikey ultimately saves Allie from sinking into the Earth after the jogger she skinjacks throws her from a car, sending her into the ocean. Allie tells him her plan to return home, but she decides it can wait and rides away with Mikey, who has forgiven her for betraying him. With Allie and Mikey gone, Mary and Nick load the Afterlights onto the Hindenburg and take off. On the return flight, Nick discovers that Mary has been lying about the purpose of coins, and he decides to help the Afterlights get where they’re going, starting with Lief. Nick frees the rest of the kidnapped Afterlights before Mary discovers what he’s done. She is furious, and she and Nick race back to Manhattan. Nick arrives first and frees most of the Afterlights living in the Twin Towers. He then leaves the city, searching for more Afterlights. Mary brands Nick as being a fearsome “Chocolate Ogre” and uses this image to frighten the Afterlights away from Nick and gather them up before he can find them.