56 pages 1 hour read

Neal Shusterman, Eric Elfman

Tesla's Attic

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


Published in 2014, Tesla’s Attic, by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman, is a science-fiction novel for middle-grade readers. It recounts the adventures of teenager Nick Slate and his friends as they learn to operate the strange devices he finds in the attic of his house while keeping them away from a secret society bent on acquiring them for evil purposes. At once thrilling and humorous, Tesla’s Attic is the first of a three-book series.

Neal Shusterman has written over 50 books, primarily for young readers, and has garnered more than 70 honors, including two National Book Awards. He also writes for film and TV, and some of his books are in development as motion pictures.

Screenwriter and children’s author Eric Elfman has penned more than 13 sci-fi and fantasy books, including The Very Scary Almanac, Three-minute Thrillers, and Almanac of the Gross, Disgusting, and Totally Repulsive.

Readers are cautioned that the book contains several instances of mildly sexual humor that may not be suitable for the youngest readers. The e-book version of the 2015 paperback edition forms the basis for this study guide.

Plot Summary

Fourteen-year-old Nick Slate, his kid brother Danny, and their father, Wayne, an ex-baseball professional, move to an old, broken-down Victorian house in Colorado Springs after their Tampa, Florida home burns down, killing the boys’ mother. The house was deeded to them by Nick’s great aunt. At their new residence, Nick explores the attic, gets hit by a falling toaster, and requires stitches to sew up the gash in his forehead.

The attic is jammed with junk, and Nick wants the room for his bedroom, so he clears it out and holds a garage sale. He places a tall lamp from the attic in the garage and switches it on. Its light is very compelling. Despite a sudden thunderstorm, people flock to the sale and buy nearly everything, overpaying wildly. Nick meets Caitlin, a cheerleader with a penchant for weird art projects; she buys an old reel-to-reel tape recorder.

A driver, impatient to get to the sale, nearly runs them over, but Nick pulls Caitlin to safety. Nick thinks the lamp might be causing all the eagerness, so he switches it off, and all the visitors promptly leave. An SUV arrives; four men in pastel suits get out and search the sale, but only scraps remain, which they bag. Their leader gives Nick $100 and his calling card and tells him to contact them if any of the other buyers bring back their items.

In the morning, the next-door neighbor returns a toaster, and Nick gives her back her money. He puts bread in it and switches it on: It roars, and a blue light leaps out and hurls Nick against a wall. The bread gets incinerated.

Nick faces several embarrassments on his first day at his new middle school. A school jock shoves him aside; his phone rings and gets taken away by a teacher; the principal tells him his old school has no record of him as a student there. At lunch, the cafeteria lady, recognizing Nick’s new-kid struggles, oddly suggests that he dump his food onto the school jock. Desperate, Nick tries it; the jock, angry, does nothing, but the other students applaud wildly. The jock later thanks him for helping him pass an anger-management test.

Caitlin wants to smash her garage-sale tape recorder and wrap up the pieces in the recording tape, but first, she tries it out. It records her words but plays back her thoughts and feelings. She reads a page from her diary and hears not the fluff she wrote but her deeper fears and disappointments.

A new friend, Mitch, drops by Nick’s house, and they play with Mitch’s garage-sale item, which has a knack for telling them what’s going to happen. They go to Vince’s house and find that his garage-sale battery revives dead animals temporarily. Nick gets the boys to swear all this to secrecy. He visits Caitlin and asks if her tape recorder does anything strange, but she denies it.

Using her tape recorder, Caitlin conducts impromptu interviews with students and teachers at school. Petula is jealous of Nick’s interest in Caitlin; she sneaks a listen to the tape recordings, copies one to her phone, and plays it back on the school loudspeakers. Everyone hears Caitlin’s selfish reasons for conducting the interviews. Nick finds her at home crying; he tells her that real friends will stick by her.

The school principal becomes suspicious of Nick because the boy’s previous school claims there are no records of him there. The records finally arrive, but from an academy in Denmark. Petula forces Nick to go on a date with her in exchange for information: The strange garage-sale devices were invented by Nikola Tesla, a genius scientist who dated Nick’s great-aunt.

Nick goes with Mitch and his family to visit Mitch’s father, who’s in prison for hacking bank computers. Mitch’s prediction device tells his dad that he was cheated by his partners, who made off with $725 million, and that he’ll never get paroled from his life sentence. Back at home, Mitch recalls bitterly his dad’s partners, who wore pastel suits.

Nick, a Little League champion pitcher back in Tampa, tries out for a local team but feels distracted and muffs the audition. Danny, who can’t play baseball to save himself, gets on a team. Nick, his dad, and Caitlin attend Danny’s first game, where he makes impossible catches. Nick and Caitlin realize it’s Danny’s glove from the garage sale doing all the work. A meteor crashes into the glove; the crowd disperses in panic. Pastel-suited people arrive and offer Nick’s dad a lucrative job in exchange for the meteor and glove. Nick’s dad accepts, but Nick tricks them into taking the wrong glove.

Caitlin finds a pin left by the pastel-suited people. She and Nick take it to a jeweler, who recognizes the pin’s emblem and tells them it belongs to a mysterious group called the Accelerati. He won’t say more; they return the next day, but his jewelry shop is now a Starbucks, and he’s dead. They break into the morgue with Vince and use Vince’s battery to revive the jeweler. He tells them that Edison founded the Accelerati to conquer the world’s power supply and that they killed him because he talked about them.

On his mom’s birthday, Danny takes his glove to the baseball field and uses it to catch meteors, hoping the falling stars will grant his wish and bring her back to him. Before Nick and his dad can stop him, he pulls a very large meteor toward the field, and they barely escape its impact. The glove also causes a giant asteroid to change its orbit and head directly for Earth.

Petula uses her camera to find out what will happen at school. She offers the resulting info to people who might benefit, hoping they’ll feel indebted to her. Wanting to get Nick into a romantic situation, she makes plans to woo him, then takes future pictures of her sofa, but all she gets is a photo of her necking with Mitch. The next night she kisses Mitch and finds she likes it.

Jorgenson uses threats and a memory-enhancing truth-serum tea to get Caitlin to reveal Nick’s plans, but she evades his questions. She and Nick retrieve the teabag from the trash; Nick drinks the tea and remembers all the people who bought items at the garage sale. He locates several of them and manages to get back some of the devices.

When a kid brings a radio that causes an earthquake to science class, Nick seizes it and decides the Tesla devices are too dangerous and must be destroyed. Caitlin agrees but arranges the items in an artistic pile so she can burn them as an art project. They realize the devices are supposed to fit together to form a large machine. They assemble it in the attic, but they don’t yet have all the parts.

Petula still yearns for Nick; she takes a future picture of his porch, hoping to see them together in a clinch, but the camera shows a body being removed from the house. Terrified, she returns the next day to warn Nick, but he’s busy with several kids at the house and angrily tells her to leave. In a series of extraordinary coincidences, each person in the house slips into a uniquely lethal situation; all escape except Vince, who’s killed when Nick tries a new TV remote that’s been slipped into the house by the Accelerati and can stop a heart. It’s a deadly warning to Nick.

Astronomers discover the asteroid hurtling toward earth, and people prepare for the world’s end. Petula takes a future photo of her backyard, which shows molten rocks flying everywhere. Ms. Planck finds Petula’s picture of her backyard, makes a large copy, goes to Petula’s house, and holds up the picture, making the photo’s prediction come true in an unexpected way. Planck gives Petula a pin from the Accelerati and tells her she’ll soon be inducted into the secret society.

Nick, angry at the Tesla devices for causing the end of the world, wants to destroy them with a Tesla bat, but he gets an idea. He talks his dad into taking one last swing at a baseball pitch, and the swing unleashes a powerful shock wave that deflects the asteroid into an orbit around the Earth. The asteroid’s copper core, spinning around the planet’s iron center, creates a dynamo that begins to provide free energy for all.

Nick and Caitlin head off to find Vince so they can install the battery on him and he can be alive again. (The story is continued in book two, Edison’s Alley.)