Visiting US writer Neal Shusterman kept a packed hall enthralled when he came to speak to our Year Nines, along with a few lucky extras. The author of numerous highly-acclaimed young-adult novels welcomed questions from the floor and took us to some insightful, thought-provoking and entertaining places. He spoke of how the world he lives in influences his writing; politics, technology and our own human nature feed his dystopian themes. He was clear that confronting bleak scenarios in his fiction comes with a rule: there must be hope. Hope allows us to see that there is a way forward and that we have in us all the capacity to not only deal with the challenges of the world, but to maybe change its course.
He shared the inspiration for some of his most popular works. The Scythe series wonders how we would deal with a population that’s simply living too long. Unwind arose from an article he read on the issue of ‘teenagers no one wants’. Dry speculates about how long it would take a city to fall into chaos when the water runs out. The most poignant of all was Challenger Deep, the novel that won Shusterman the prestigious National Book Award in America. This novel took inspiration from his own son’s mental illness and channelled that into something that has resonated with thousands of readers and shone a light on an often misunderstood experience. It really was an insight into the empathy good fiction gives us.
So when a self-described ‘reluctant reader’ come into the class and raves, “It was fantastic! We got to meet him and get stuff signed. And now I want to read Scythe,” you can say job done. As the man himself said, no one hates reading: they just haven’t found the right book. It seemed like Neal Shusterman had the right books for the line of students (and teacher-fans) who waited to meet him and get their copies of his books signed.
Shusterman rushed to Western Springs Nga Puna o Waiorea from an interview with Radio New Zealand, which you can access on www.radionz.co.nz/radio. We also need to thank the Dorothy Butler Bookstore for bringing Neal to us. It’s a great local business from which to get your own taste of Neal Shusterman.