Last Bus to Everland, Sophie Cameron (Macmillan Children’s Books 978-1-509-85318-2, £9.99, 288pp, tp) May 2019. (Roaring Brook Press 978-1-250-14993-0, $17.99, 327pp, hc) June 2019.
After last year’s thoughtful Out of the Blue, author Sophie Cameron returns again to her native Scotland with Last Bus to Everland. In this “magical doorway” fantasy (that title was chosen for a reason), teenager Brody Fair finds the place he has always wished for in the company of friends he never dared hope to have. The secret doorway to Everland appears on a certain street in Edinburgh at precisely 11:21 p.m. only on Thursday nights, and its discovery upends Brody’s otherwise troubled and depressing life. He finds himself passing through the door because Nico wants him to, and Nico meets Brody because Brody is in trouble and Nico is the type of person who always arrives in the nick of time. Nico is, in fact, his own kind of magic, and Brody needs him, and Everland, desperately. The novel’s looming question is whether Everland is a place for happily ever after, or instead, as so many of the old stories warn, a place where you can become forever lost.
Brody is the classic kid-who-doesn’t-fit-in. His older brother is brilliant and his younger sister a bubbly drama queen. It should be a family with room enough for a sensitive LGBTQ introvert, but Brody’s father suffers from PTSD that has left him agoraphobic. His mother works hard to keep the family afloat, but they are stretched to their financial limits and everyone is coming undone. In Brody’s case, falling to pieces has made him an even easier target for the neighborhood bullies (two girls) and life has become a daily trial of abuse and escape. Nico’s intervention in the latest confrontation is a godsend, and his subsequent invitation to meet on Thursday night sounds like just the ticket to forget all the complications of home. Then Brody steps through the door and arrives in Everland and, as expected, his life is turned upside down.
Cameron knows she is trekking in familiar territory here but rather than waste time on pointless denials, she allows Brody a Peter Pan obsession and has his new friends tossing out familiar comparisons to other magical lands that readers will easily recognize. Even so, Last Bus to Everland is not an homage or retread – it is an exploration of just why these magical lands are so important in the first place. Brody’s problems are real; all the problems that everyone is facing in this book are real, and it is so lovely to imagine that there might be someplace where those problems could be cast aside for a little while. Brody joins an Everland band where he can drum with abandon, and his friends all run with their own dreams while visiting (there is a library to rival all libraries in this book), but it is always only for a little while (time does move differently) before they return home. But getting out late at night is not easy for Brody, and while his family is in a tough spot, it is still a family that cares: these aren’t folks who will turn a blind eye to a teenager disappearing every week. Then, abruptly, the doors to Everland start to disappear. The one in Edinburgh could be next, which forces Brody to make the powerful choice to stay at home or go away forever.
While Everland is beautifully drawn and delightful to discover, it is not what makes Last Bus to Everland such a wonderful read. Sophie Cameron excels at creating complicated families whose complications are wholly and completely believable. She makes you care about her protagonists and their siblings and their parents and their friends. She breathes life into these characters and, just as she did with Out of the Blue (which I highly recommend), she makes the realistic parts of her novels as compelling as the fantastic ones. We all wish we could run away to someplace magical sometimes, but just like Dorothy, Brody learns what matters most. The choice is not a surprise, but how he gets to it, and who turns up to help him along the way, is really and truly a pleasure to read about. This one’s a keeper and could well be a significant novel in the lives of many teens.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the October 2019 issue of Locus.
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