I picked up this book last night in a moment of book panic - I'd left my current read at home, and it was dinner hour at work, and I had nothing to read! Luckily, when you work in a library, that isn't an insurmountable problem. I'd read a blog review of it (Nicola's), and I love what I've read by Gaiman so far, so it seemed a good choice.
When I got back to work after dinner, I kept thinking about the book, wishing I could return to it. I read some more after work, and finished it this morning. It was that sort of book. It reminded me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones's wonderful books about the Multiverse, with a dash of Robert Heinlein's kids' books (like Have Spacesuit Will Travel) thrown in.
14-year-old Joey Harker once, as he tells readers at the beginning of the book, got lost in his own house. Sure, they'd put on a new addition, but still - his own house? That's what a poor sense of direction he has. So when his social studies assignment is to get on a bus, blindfolded, and then find his way home from whatever part of town he's dropped off in (without the blindfold), it is no surprise that he gets very lost. Almost immediately.
What is surprising is that he's not simply lost - he's as lost as it is possible to get: he's in a different dimension. A dimension in which the McDonald's sign has a tartan pattern to it, and his house isn't really his house anymore. There's a woman who kind of looks like his mother, and a girl his age who looks, well, like Joey would if he were a girl. But this is definitely not where he belongs. He runs outside the house, only to find a frightening figure in a reflective silver suit and mask who asks Joey to trust him - and behind the mask, his face looks like Joey's, only older. Joey is understandably freaked out, but before he can decide what to do, some men on flying disks brandishing nets come after them, and all Joey can do is run.
That's just in the first few pages of the book. It turns out that Joey may have a rotten sense of direction on earth, but he has a fine sense of direction for journeying through dimensions - and journey he does. He adventures through the Altiverse, finding himself aboard flying pirate ships bound for destruction, and venturing into the In-Between, the bizarreness of which is, he says, "like a 3-D collaboration between Salvador Dali, Picasso and Jackson Pollock. With a liberal dose of Heironymus Bosch and the really cool old Warner Bros. cartoons thrown in for good measure."
Now what 14-year-old would actually think in those terms, I don't know, but I'm along for the ride. I did wonder that my library shelves this book with the chapter books for younger kids, rather than with the young adult books. The language and concepts are more complicated than I would expect for that audience (vocabulary words include things like "teratogenic poison," "combinatorial abstract," and "memetic talisman"). The publisher recommends this for ages 9 -12 (probably based on the age of the main character), but I'd recommend it for 12 and up (and, as always, for very interested kids who are younger than that).
This is a fast-paced, gripping adventure, but it is also a moving coming-of-age story. I highly recommend it.
Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves (Eos, 2007)
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