No Passengers Beyond This Point by Gennifer Choldenko

no-passengersCindy: The Tompkins siblings, India, Finn, and young Mouse (who makes fabulous squeaking noises) have their world turned upside down in No Passengers Beyond This Point (Dial 2011) when their mother tells them that their house has been foreclosed on and she is sending them by themselves to live with an uncle in Colorado while she finishes teaching out the school year. With less than a day to pack and no time to say goodbye to friends, coach, and family dog, the three children are reeling at the changes facing them. As Mouse says:

Ever since I found out they kicked Pluto out of the planets, I have not been feeling so sure about a lot of things.

There are humorous scenes a-plenty, like the fiasco going through security when Mouse announces she’s brought her explosives with her (Mentos and two-liter bottles of soda to make a volcano for Uncle Red), but there are plenty of sad moments too…leaving the dog behind, for one. But then, suddenly, the children disembark in “not Denver” and they realize they are “not in Kansas anymore.” Magical realism takes hold and they are picked up by a child driving a hot pink taxi cab covered in white feathers. The reality the kids have known becomes something quite different. They are welcomed in style to Falling Bird, a place that has a house and a “cool mom” tailored to the interests of each child. The story gets stranger and stranger (think Wizard of Oz, Phantom Tollbooth, or When You Reach Me) as the children race against the clock to decide where to call home and how to find their way back, should they choose not to stay in Falling Bird. As in When You Reach Me, readers will flip back to the beginning of the book and read it again after they reach the startling conclusion.

I have a friend who posts foreclosure notices every week…dozens of them in our county every week. I rode with him recently during his rounds and the hardest to watch were the ones where young children’s artwork hung in windows facing the street. I wondered where those kids would go and how their parents would treat them when they came home that night to find the posting. I’m grateful to see Choldenko address this reality for many children as one small element in this book that questions how we look at our families, where is home,  and what is important.

Lynn: Fasten your seatbelts readers because you are in for a wild ride with Choldenko’s newest.  It’s hard to write about this without giving away elements of an ending that made me gasp aloud but I’ll try to be oblique and clear at the same time.  I’ve always thought of Choldenko’s books as being character driven and while this one is still definitely that, this time she gives us a plot that is twisty and convoluted and deliberately mystifying.  I started out thinking this is a book about the intricacies of sibling relationships, children dealing with the death of their father years before, and finding their place in the family and the world.  Then BOOM – the book turns itself upside down and like Alice falling down the rabbit hole I had NO idea what was going on.  I’m a life-long science fiction reader so I am never bothered too much by feeling bewildered by a book for a while but I have heard from several readers that they put the book down at this point.  Please don’t!  Just sit back and go along for the ride, it will be worth it, I assure you.

Even if you are a reader that doesn’t like that off-kilter-out-of-balance feeling of a labyrinthine plot, the richly developed characters will reward your perseverance.  I’m hard pressed to chose a favorite character.  Angsty tunnel-vision India with her carefully guarded insecurities is so real she could have been plucked from the halls of our middle school and plopped unchanged into this story!  I adored Finn, shouldering the role of man of the house at too young an age, believing that if he worries enough the bad things will be deflected from his family.  Mouse almost steals the show, literal-minded, precociously bright and courageous but everywhere Mouse goes, her imaginary friend Bing goes.  Bing “thinks about what doesn’t make sense so Mouse can think about what does.”  Mouse drives India crazy and when Finn asks her why she bugs India so much she replies:

“I have to or she’d forget about me.”

These are characters I cared about and the exploration of their roles in the family and their relationships with each other is beautifully crafted.  Choldenko allows readers to develop this understanding through the characters’ interactions with each other in this strange world.  The theme of the importance of family is the solid foundation that underlies the ambiguity of the plot and provides the firm footing for the characters  – and the readers – to stand on.  As Cindy says, this is a book that had me flipping it over and reading it again immediately.  Talk about a discussion starter – this will make a terrific book club book as the ending will spark intense discussion and argument.  Hurry up and read this so we can talk about the ending!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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