You should know Gennifer Choldenko for her wonderful Newbery Honor winning title, Al Capone Does My Shirts, and the follow-up read, Al Capone Shines My Shoes. Her new novel, No Passengers Beyond This Point offers us another story about family, home, and sibling relationships, but this time with a fantastical twist.
The story opens when India, Mouse, and Finn find out that they have less than 48 hours to pack up their things because they have to go live with their Uncle Red for a while. This is happening because after a long struggle they’ve finally lost their house to foreclosure and now their Mom plans to stay put to keep working while the kids head to Colorado and Uncle Red. None of the kids want to leave, but they don’t have a choice, so they get on a plane and leave behind home as they know it. When they arrive, they aren’t where they were supposed to land. They are in a mysterious place that is unlike anywhere they’ve ever imagined, let alone been. What’s strange, gets even stranger, and the kids discover that the only way they’re going to get home is if they don’t give up on each other and use all their smarts to work together.
Choldenko succeeds in creating a great dreamlike quality in the novel after the kids arrive in the weird new place called Falling Bird. There are shades of the strangeness of Alice in Wonderland and Oz in the way that they are stuck in a world that seems at once wonderful and at the same time, kind of frightening. The dreamlike quality to the story can sometimes get a little confusing, but I think that most kids will persist because they will want to discover what happens next, and also they will be engaged by the three-voice structure. This brings me to what I see as the real strength of the novel, beyond the imaginative premise: the characters’ voices. It is tricky to have a story told by three characters and have all three characters demonstrate individual, rounded voices. Choldenko is great at capturing how kids really talk and think. You will fall in love with Mouse, the genius little sister who is at once vulnerable and quirky and way too smart for her age. India might be a little bit too much the stereotypical grouchy teen older sister, but she becomes slightly more complex as things go along. The ending leaves lots of questions. Some readers may find this frustrating, but I don’t think that the end is necessarily unsatisfying. It seems to fit that a book that keeps you asking questions the whole way through doesn’t have a tidy “happily ever after” conclusion.
No Passengers Beyond This Point is suspenseful, a little spooky, heartwarming, and quirky, with an ending that is sure to get kids talking.
No Passengers Beyond This Point is published by Dial.