The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi
***NOTE: There is an aspect of this book, where it references a literary classic, that I feel should be discussed... but would be a huge spoiler... so if you read this review, and have read the book, and wonder why I don't talk about it, it's because I don't want to ruin the reading experience for anyone else!***
Eva has lived her entire life underground with her robot, Muthr. While running through countless tests to prepare her for the world above, it becomes all Eva can think about... being outside. One day, she gets her wish... but not in the way she had hoped. A Hunter attacks their sanctuary and forces Eva to flee, leaving behind all she knew... and discovering that everything she had trained for is completely useless... because the world above them isn't what the computer programs said it would be.
Honestly, and it pains me to say it, I really didn't care for any of these characters, except maybe Otto, the Waterbear. Rovender was obviously running from something... but DiTerlizzi didn't really use or explore that until the last pages of the book. There was a potential for a lot of painful, heart-wrenching history there... and it was, for the most part, left unexplored. Muthr I enjoyed at the beginning of the story. She's a robot, all of her reactions were very robotic. She had programming and it was strict and untrusting and I liked that... but then towards the end, Muthr 'had to rewrite her programming as she went' and suddenly became much more human. I thought her shift to doing so seemed sudden and unlikely, and frankly I liked the idea of her becoming more of a problem as time went on, which didn't happen. Besteel, the Hunter who stalked them for reasons unknown, really was nothing but a cruel, mindless hunter until the end of the book, where we got to see a little of his backstory. It wasn't enough to save him from being very one-dimensional though. He hunted. The end. Otto, the giant Waterbear, was probably the character I most connected with... he expressed emotions, his motivations were clear, he didn't need backstory because he was essentially their mode of transportation (think Appa, if Aang had been able to telepathically communicate with him) He was simple in dialect, yet smart enough to stay alive, as he should have been. Now on to Eva Nine, the main character. The truth? I found her annoying. She didn't listen to good advice, ever... and constantly got herself into trouble. She all of a sudden, after just meeting him, gave Rovender the nickname of Rovee... which, for whatever reason, annoyed the heck out of me (I think I felt it a bit presumptuous for her to be giving nicknames to someone she just met) She didn't really offer much to the group, other than being something no one had seen before (Humans are rare) and through the entire book, except for when she was hiding in the hallway with her stuffed toys, I never really felt connected to her. She would resolve not to do things, and then end up doing them and thinking "Oh, this is great!"
I was watching these characters as they traversed this strange new land, but I wasn't emotionally invested in any of them.
Quality of Writing:
This book didn't take me long to read, but I still felt it took me much longer than it should have. There was SO much description of the world around them that, for me, it really bogged down the story. I recall sitting there reading and realizing I'd just read several pages of nothing much happening other than the characters walking and describing the world around them in tedious detail. My biggest problem with that was that, despite all that detail, the world didn't suck me in. Tony DiTerlizzi is a MASTER Illustrator... one of my favorites... but as a writer? Not as much.
At the end of the book, I was actually starting to get excited and interested. They explain the word WondLa, and end up finding something that might help explain Eva's mysterious existence... something human... and they make a groundbreaking discovery. One that I find really interesting and exciting... and my brain begins plotting things about how Eva had started the story where she did, and what that could mean for the Human race, and then I started thinking about genetics and a bunch of fun science... and then I get to the last page... and almost all of that is taken away. It leaves me fearing for the plot of the next book.
I gave the plot a high rating because I *really* like the idea of this book. Unfortunately, I can't go into the detail I want to, because it would really ruin said plot, but the concept is interesting and holds a lot of potential. Eva was living underground on what she thought was Earth, but when she's forced to the surface she realizes that she's not where she thought she was. This begins her long quest to find out what happened both to the world she thought she lived in, and the peoples she comes from.
Believability of World:
I think the over-description of this world really pulled me out of it. Most of this book was spent describing what the characters were seeing... in a lot of descriptive detail. It became a bit tedious for me, and I found myself wishing for more character development.
Illustrations and Extras:
I think the best part of this book were Tony DiTerlizzi's illustrations... but even those I found a little jarring. They were often placed either pages before or after the event they described... and I disliked it when they came before the event and gave away something that was about to happen.
Now, I had seen this book described as Novel/Graphic Novel/Virtual World... and the Virtual part was ok, but very kid-oriented...which is fine, since it's a kid's book... but Graphic Novel? No. This was a novel with illustrations to open each chapter, and sometimes another illustration within the chapter... but Graphic Novel it was not. I was really expecting more, illustration-wise... and I think this book would have benefited highly from being a flat out Graphic Novel (then DiTerlizzi could have skipped all of that description of the world, and just drawn a lot of it).
Overall Grade: D (I just could not get into this story. I feel really bad giving it such a low grade, because I *wanted* to love this story so much, but I just didn't... and I was also really annoyed to open up the book and find it was Book 1 of a series. Maybe I missed where this was touted as a series, but I really thought this was a single story... and frankly, I won't be in any hurry to read the second one. I will read it, I'm sure... because I'm curious as to whether or not it will redeem itself at all (I have seen this happen before)... but be as excited about it as I was for the first one? No.)