Shusterman, Neal 1962-
Shusterman, Neal 1962-
Born November 12, 1962, in New York, NY; son of Milton and Charlotte Shusterman; married Elaine Jones (a teacher and photographer), January 31, 1987; children: Brendan, Jarrod, Joelle, Erin. Education: University of California, Irvine, B.A., 1985. Politics: "No." Religion: "Yes."
Home—Dove Canyon, CA. Office—P.O. Box 18516, Irvine, CA 92623-8516. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, screenwriter, playwright, director, public speaker, and novelist.
PEN, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Writers Guild of America (West).
Children's Choice Award, International Reading Association, 1988, and Volunteer State Book Award, Tennessee Library Association, 1990, both for The Shadow Club; American Library Association (ALA) Best Book, 1992, Children's Choice Award, International Reading Association, 1992, Outstanding Fiction for Young Adults Award, 1992, Young Adult Choice Award, International Reading Association, 1993, and Oklahoma Sequoyah Award, 1994, all for What Daddy Did; C.I.N.E. Golden Eagle Awards, 1992 and 1994, for writing and directing educational films Heart on a Chain and What about the Sisters?; New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age list, 1992, and California Young Reader Medal nomination, 1995-96, both for Speeding Bullet; Best Books for Reluctant Readers, ALA, 1993, for Eyes of Kid Midas; ALA Best Book for Young Adults and Quick Pick list nominations, 1996, and New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age list, 1997, for Scorpion Shards; Best Books for Reluctant Readers, ALA, 1997, for MindsQuakes: Stories to Shatter Your Brain; ALA Quick Pick Top Ten List and Best Book for Young Adults, both 1998, Outstanding Book of the Year, Southern California Council on Literature for Children and Young People, 1999, and state award lists in California, New York, Maine, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Indiana, Illinois, and Nebraska, 2000, all for The Dark Side of Nowhere; Downsiders was a Texas Lone Star Award Book, 2000-01; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, 2005, for The Schwa Was Here.
YOUNG ADULT NOVELS
Dissidents, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1989.
What Daddy Did, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.
Speeding Bullet, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.
The Eyes of Kid Midas, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992.
The Dark Side of Nowhere, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.
Downsiders, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.
Full Tilt, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
The Schwa Was Here, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Duckling Ugly, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Everlost, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2006.
Unwind, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2007.
"SHADOW CLUB" SERIES
The Shadow Club, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1988.
The Shadow Club Rising, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2002.
"STAR SHARDS" SERIES
Scorpion Shards, TOR Books (New York, NY), 1995.
The Thief of Souls, TOR Books (New York, NY), 1999.
The Shattered Sky, TOR Books (New York, NY), 2002.
"DARK FUSION" SERIES
Red Rider's Hood, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Dread Locks, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2005.
It's Okay to Say No to Cigarettes and Alcohol (nonfiction), TOR Books (New York, NY), 1988.
(With Cherie Currie) Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story, Price Stern Sloan (Los Angeles, CA), 1989.
Kid Heroes: True Stories of Rescuers, Survivors, and Achievers, TOR Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Darkness Creeping: Tales to Trouble Your Sleep (horror), illustrated by Michael Coy, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1993.
Piggyback Ninja (fiction), illustrated by Joe Boddy, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1994.
Darkness Creeping II: More Tales to Trouble Your Sleep (horror), Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1995.
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.
Also author of television adaptations, including Night of the Living Dummy III and The Werewolf of Fever Swamp for R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" series; staff writer for Animorphs television series.
Author of educational films for the Learning Corporation of America, including Heart on a Chain and What about the Sisters?
Developer of "How to Host a Mystery" and "How to Host a Murder" games.
Former author of syndicated humor column for Syndicated Writer's Group.
"Writers are a lot like vampires," noted author Neal Shusterman on his Web site. "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 go. A writer is much the same." Shusterman, an award-winning author of books for young adults, screenplays, stage plays, music, and games, works in genres ranging from biographies and realistic fiction to fantastic mysteries, science fiction, and thrillers. Following the publication of Dissidents, Shusterman's third book, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books critic 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 Shusterman acts the part of benevolent vampire, "feeding on your turmoil, as well as feeding on your peace," as he put it on his Web site.
It was this power of books to not only entertain and inform but to totally captivate that Shusterman himself experienced as a young reader. "Books played an important part in my life when I was growing up," Shusterman noted. "I always loved reading. I remember there was this trick I would play for my friends. They'd blindfold me, then shove a book under my nose, and I could tell them the name of the publisher by the smell of the paper and ink." 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 as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and as meaningful as Jonathan Livingston Seagull," Shusterman said. 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.
Shusterman moved with his family to Mexico City, where he finished high school, and then went on to the University of California, Irvine, where he earned degrees 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 larger recognition for his first novel The Shadow Club, published in 1988. It tells the story of seven junior high 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 in order 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," as David Gale wrote 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."
Dissidents, Shusterman's next novel, tells the story of Derek, a rebellious fifteen-year-old who is shipped off to Moscow after his father dies in a car accident, to live with his disinterested mother, the U.S. ambassador to Russia. 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 the novel "an excellent glimpse of life on the other side of the globe."
Horn Book reviewer Ellen Fader called 1990's Speeding Bullet a "gritty, fast-paced, and, at times, funny novel." 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 to be "a fast-paced modern parable with compelling characters and true-to-life dialogue." Shusterman followed this fictional story with a 1991 book about real heroes called Kid Heroes: True Stories of Rescuers, Survivors, and Achievers.
Shusterman's next novel, 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 an amusing 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 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 for Publishers Weekly called "this fable for the 90s" both "imaginative and witty," and one that "convincingly proves the dangers of the narcissistic ethos of having it all."
For Scorpion Shards, Shusterman takes special powers one step beyond, enlisting the science-fiction/fantasy genre and the realms of the supernatural for a three-part series. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that in this novel, "Shusterman takes on an outlandish comic-book concept and, through the sheer audacity and breadth if his imagination, makes it stunningly believable." Six teenagers are outcasts because of the usual afflictions of the age, such as acne, obesity, and the fear of being different. But the exaggerated sense of their problems is also accompanied by something special: supernatural powers. Tory's acne taints everything she touches; Travis likes to break things and subsequently destroys several homes in a landslide. Soon these six divide into 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 reviewer Donna L. Scanlon. Booklist critic Bill Ott felt 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 that "the horror story is suspenseful and compelling."
The second novel in the trilogy, Thief of Souls, follows five of the teenagers who have discovered the origins of their superhuman powers yet attempt to live normal lives. Now, drawn to San Simeon, California, by the sixth, Dillon, they are enlisted to become "misguided miracle workers," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, by the mysterious and "Mephistophelean" Okoya. "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 the novel in Library Journal, commented: "The author's economy of style and bare-bones characterization propel his tale to its climax with few distractions."
Shusterman further explores the supernatural with the short stories in the "MindQuakes" series, including MindQuakes: Stories to Shatter Your Brain, MindTwisters: Stories to Play with Your Head, MindStorms: Stories to Blow Your Mind, and MindBenders: Stories to Warp Your Brain, stories guaranteed to "snare even reluctant readers," according to a contributor for 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 in "tone." 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."
The Dark Side of Nowhere is a science fiction thriller in which teenager Jason feels trapped in his small town until he discovers an awful secret about himself. He 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. Booklist critic Carolyn Phelan noted that "Shusterman tells a fast-paced story, giving Jason many vivid, original turns of phrase, letting the plot get weird enough to keep readers enthralled, then coming back to the human emotions at the heart of it all." 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: "This is great science fiction."
With Downsiders, Shusterman builds another tale skirting 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. "Facts … are blended with fantasy until it is difficult to tell where truth stops and fiction begins," wrote Shook in a School Library Journal review of the book. Shook went on to note: "Overall … this is an exciting and entertaining story that will please fans of adventure, science fiction, and fantasy." Janice M. Del Negro, reviewing the same 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. "Shusterman twines suspense and satire through this ingenious tale of a secret community living deep beneath the streets of New York," wrote a contributor for Kirkus Reviews. The same reviewer concluded: "Urban readers, at least, will be checking the storm drains for peering faces in the wake of this cleverly envisioned romp."
Red Rider's Hood, part of a series of novels in which Shusterman retools classic fairy tales and children's stories, offers a "clever twist on Little Red Riding Hood," commented Debbie Carton in Booklist. Red Rider is a sixteen-year-old boy, a tough guy who roams the streets behind the wheel of his blood-red Mustang. Red's home is not in a typical neighborhood; the dangerous avenues are infested with werewolf gang members. He is surprised to find that his grandmother, a former hippie, is actually a werewolf hunter, who wears leather and tools around on her black Harley, looking to wipe out lycanthropes. When Red's grandmother is attacked and robbed by a gang of werewolves, he vows to avenge her by infiltrating their group and bringing them down from the inside. However, once he is part of the wolf gang, he finds the power and sense of belonging to be enticing. As the bond between him and the werewolves grows stronger, he must fight the growing urge to join the werewolves for real as he struggles with issues of identity and which side is the right side. "Red's journey is fast paced and suspenseful," noted Kimberly L. Paone in School Library Journal. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book "Fine fare for a solitary evening's reading," while Kliatt reviewer Paula Rohrlick noted the story "will appeal to fantasy fans as well as reluctant readers."
In Duckling Ugly, Shusterman gives the familiar tale of self-realization, the Ugly Duckling, "an ingenious, eerie twist," noted another Kirkus Reviews contributor. Teenager Cara de Fido is a spelling bee champion who bears a most unfortunate name, but her physical appearance is her biggest detriment. So ugly that her reflection shatters mirrors and camera lenses, Cara is brutally ridiculed by her peers in her hometown of Flock's Rest. The cruel denizens refer to her as the Flock's Rest Monster, and Cara herself battles an ever-intensifying combination of rage and resentment. Cara does have one friend, at least—another outcast, the odd old lady who lives in the cemetery and who tells Cara she must search for her destiny. When a mysterious note from a boy she likes sends her out into a storm, she realizes she has been betrayed—her father paid the boy to take her to the Homecoming dance. After spending the night outside, she wakes up in a strange, beautiful valley, where the equally beautiful population stands guard over the fabled Fountain of Youth. Cara becomes beautiful with a splash of the waters of the fountain, and delights in finding a community where she will be accepted. However, she becomes determined to head back to Flock's Rest to seek some justice. Cara soon finds that the price of beauty is often a very high one to pay indeed. "Touches of magical realism add richness, multidimensional characters abound, and Cara's wit and self-mocking tone lend an ease" to the storytelling, remarked Carton in another Booklist review. "Shusterman has created his own dark, edgy, and suspenseful tale that cleverly borrows" elements from classic fairy tales, noted School Library Journal reviewer Sharon Rawlins.
With Everlost, Shusterman "imagines a purgatory where only children go," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. When teenagers Allie and Nick are killed in an automobile accident, they collide with each other on the way toward the light. For this reason, they are thrown off course and land in the mysterious world of Everlost, populated by the souls of children who have lost their way while heading toward the light. Neither alive nor dead, and temporarily prevented from completing their life-ending journey, Nick and Allie must learn to navigate a strange new landscape. Assisted by Leif, an "afterlight" of more than a hundred years old, they travel to New York and seek help from Mary Hightower, a fifteen-year-old oracle who has written numerous books for new arrivals to Everlost. Mary lives in the World Trade Center with a group of other children, explaining that well-loved buildings can also end up new and perfect in Everlost, even when they are lost in the real world. Dealing with Mary becomes the least of their problems as Nick and Allie have a run-in with a six-year-old gangster, experience the physical realities of the world that make it necessary for them to keep moving or be sucked directly to the center of the earth, and encounter the McGill, Everlost's resident horrible monster. Allie learns methods of inhabiting the living called skin-jacking, and Nick finds himself falling in love with Mary, as the duo try to cope with their new surroundings, discover their true purpose in Everlost, and figure out a way to move onward in their spiritual journey. "For anyone who has lost a friend or loved one at an early age, this is a good read," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "Shusterman's landscapes seem both familiar and ghostly, just the right mix for this fascinating limbo land," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The plot of the story "moves quickly but is fully developed, and the characters grow and change as they learn to cope with their new existence," noted Susan Dove Lempke in Horn Book. Kliatt reviewer Paula Rohrlick called the book a "creepy, suspenseful ghost story" that is "full of inventive details."
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."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
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; October 15, 2005, Debbie Carton, review of Red Rider's Hood, p. 43; February 1, 2006, Debbie Carton, review of Duckling Ugly, p. 45; September 15, 2006, Holly Hoelling, review of Everlost, p. 57.
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.
Horn Book, May-June, 1991, Ellen Fader, review of Speeding Bullet, p. 340; November-December, 2006, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Everlost, p. 725.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1997, review of The Dark Side of Nowhere, p. 468; June 1, 1999, review of Downsiders, p. 889; October 1, 2005, review of Red Rider's Hood, p. 1089; January 15, 2006, review of Duckling Ugly, p. 90; October 1, 2006, review of Everlost, p. 1025.
Kliatt, May, 1993, Rita M. Fontinha, review of What Daddy Did, p. 10; January, 1997, Donna L. Scanlon, reviews of Scorpion Shards, p. 10, and MindStorms, p. 16; 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.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 23, 1989, Kristiana Gregory, review of Dissidents, p. 11.
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; November 18, 1996, p. 78; February 8, 1999, review of Thief of Souls, p. 199; November 6, 2006, review of Everlost, p. 62.
School Library Journal, May, 1988, David Thomson 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; December, 2005, Kimberly L. Paone, review of Red Rider's Hood, p. 155; July, 2006, Sharon Rawlins, review of Duckling Ugly, p. 112; October, 2006, Lynn Evarts, review of Everlost, p. 172.
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.
Wilson Library Bulletin, March, 1993, Frances Bradburn, review of The Eyes of Kid Midas, p. 85.
Neal Shusterman Home Page,http://www.storyman.com (October 26, 2000).