Only a couple of chapters into this book, I fell in love. Hard. The Search For WondLa features such a curious, adventurous heroine and such a whimsical, weird world for her to explore. Thanks to the gorgeous illustrations (also by Tony DiTerlizzi), the characters and scenery felt tangible. Every time I picked up the book, I was swept away to Eva’s world, which is wondrous and terrifying at the same time. You have Wandering Forests, giant tardigrades, terrible oxygen-sucking plants, plus robots and hovercraft. What’s not to love?
The Search For WondLa begins with twelve-year-old Eva Nine, who lives in an underground Sanctuary with a robot called Muthr (Multi-Utility Task Help Robot), who is charged with Eva’s care and upbringing. Eva is being prepared for survival outside of her Sanctuary, in a world that seems to be much like ours. But when Eva is forced to leave the Sanctuary early after an intruder attacks her home, she realizes that the world outside is nothing like the one she was prepared for. Her Omnipod doesn’t recognize any of the plant or animal life, though it notes that some of it is similar to microscopic life forms like tardigrades. As Eva tries to make sense of this unknown world, she manages to make a friend (or at least an ally) with the lone widower Rovender Kitt, and finds out that she is being hunted by a brutal bounty hunter called Besteel.
Eva makes a fantastic heroine. Like the classic children’s characters DiTerlizzi says he was inspired by (Alice, Dorothy Gale, and Wendy Darling), Eva is curious, clever, resourceful, and brave. And thanks to her tenacity and her good heart, she soon surrounds herself with friends — Muthr, Rovender Kitt, and the giant tardigrade, Otto. Eva and her friends set out on a quest to find out what happened to Earth and the other humans, while dodging the bounty hunter Besteel and trying not to get killed by any of the strange plants and animals that inhabit this plant.
The Search For WondLa really hearkens back to classic children’s literature, which is refreshing to me. The coming of age story is not entirely new, nor is the “young girl transplanted in a new world” story, which draws from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan. But WondLa still feels new and exciting, mostly due to the sci-fi elements and the captivating artwork. DiTerlizzi also is not afraid of creating genuinely scary moments in this book — like a plant that entrances you with its pollen and then literally sucks the oxygen from your lungs. Classic children’s stories are often much more frightening than we give them credit for, perhaps due to the Disney-fication of most of them. And at the end of the book there is a very intentional link to a classic story, which I won’t spoil here, but it added a message about the value of storytelling that I really loved.
Slightly older fans of The Spiderwick Chronicles (also by DiTerlizzi) are sure to love this book, as will any teens or adults with a hankering for a great new fantasy story.
Bonus! The Search For WondLa has an interactive feature called WondLa Vision. At points throughout the book, there is an illustration of Eva’s Omnipod (which scans things or creatures and provides Eva with information about them), which you hold up to your webcam. You’re then presented with a 3D animation of some of the scenery and action from the book.
[Placeholder: WondLa Vision image.]
I’m not terribly impressed with this feature, to be honest. The 3D is only okay and the animations run on a loop, but kids reading this might enjoy it more. The idea of having my own virtual Omnipod, that shows me more about things in the world of the book I’m reading, would have been utterly exciting to me as a child.
[Placeholder: Orbonian alphabet image.]
There is ALSO a guide to the Orbonian (the language spoken by non-humans in the book) alphabet at the end of the book, with a vague note suggesting that it might be useful to readers of this and other books in the series. The book ends on a cliffhanger and an “End of Book One”, so it’s no surprise that there will be more books in this series (which makes me so happy, seriously). But it does make me wonder if there will be some kind of viral marketing with Orbonian clues to translate for the next book, or if there are more clues hidden in this book. Hmm. You’ve got me hooked, WondLa.