Title: The Search for WondLa
Author: Tony DiTerlizzi
ISBN: 9781416983101
Pages: 477 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, c2010.

Smoke wormed its way into the kitchen from under the door, carrying a nauseating stench of smoldering metal and melted plastic. Outside, Eva could hear a loud hum followed by a piercing sonic vibration. The kitchen door buckled from the explosion, but did not open. Muthr spoke in that slightly distorted melodious voice. “Eva, I love you very much, and I hope that I will see you again,” she said, “but you must go, NOW!”
Muthr moved away from the grate. Eva pounded on it, screaming, “No! No! No!”
A metal covering slide down, sealing the exhaust vent shut. Eva could hear a tremendous explosion and the kitchen door blow open. Frightened, she sat frozen at the bottom of the vent for the longest minute of her life. She listened to the rummaging and pilfering going on beyond the grate covering in what had once been her kitchen — what had once been her home. (42-43)

Eva Nine is twelve years old and has lived under ground her entire life being raised by Muthr, a robotic caregiver. Muthr has trained her for the upcoming day when Eva Nine can leave her secure home, walk outside, and see the sun. Those plans get moved forward when they are attacked and Muthr literally pushes Eva Nine out into the world, a world that bears little comparison to the one she has learned about her entire life. While Muthr encouraged her to find a new safe haven, Eva is drawn by a plaque she has discovered in an abandoned portion of her home promoting humans and robots living together in WondLa. Now all she has to do is find this mysterious location without getting captured by the surprise intruder that has ransacked her home and is now looking for her.

To quote the back cover of the book: “Inspired by stories by the likes of the Brothers Grimm, James M. Barrie, and L. Frank Baum, The Search for WondLa is a new fairy teal for the twenty-first century.” I however, kept seeing Star Wars more than Peter Pan running through my brain. Arius (the picture on top) reminds me of a miniaturized, floating, many-armed Jaba the Hutt. Rovender Kitt reminds me of a much less annoying and much more enjoyable Jar-Jar Binks. (I feel so horrible making that comparison, because I like Rovender so much better than Jar-Jar.) Muthr is a feminized C3PO, there are holoprojectors much like the ones used to communicate in Star Wars, and even Eva Nine’s hair style is reminiscent of Leia’s famous buns, rocking the braided pigtails. Please tell me I’m not the only one who sees this! (the pictures are taken from Mr. DiTerlizzi’s blog — if that’s against some rule, please let me know… )

These comparisons to Star Wars however do not dampen the intrigue, the mystery, and the delight that readers experience when unravelling the enigma that is this world. Eva Nine has quite literally stepped into a world that is completely different from what she expected. She’s stepped into the wardrobe, through the looking-glass, and fallen down the rabbit hole, but in a completely new way. Her holographic computer confirms this belief, continuing to affirm that the species of animals and plants she encounters are “unknown”.

DiTerlizzi’s detailed two-toned drawings enhance the experience, allowing readers to submerge themselves in the world they’re reading about. Most of the pictures lead off new chapters, but extra pictures are scattered throughout the novel, leaving a welcome surprise to readers. Creatures and plant-life surround the contents pages, which detail the short chapters that encourage further reading and make the thick tome just fly by. I could make another comparison to an equally thick book with striking pictures and wonderfully detailed world *cough*here*cough*, but I won’t.

And that’s the thing about this book, is that everything is so detailed, not just the world, but the characters and their emotions and reactions. Even at the end of the book, a foreign alphabet and writing system is included, along with a map of this world (more on that later). Rovender is initially reluctant to help Eva, especially considering the trouble she seems to be in and the ignorance she displays. Eva herself is initially reluctant to trust anyone, and rightly so considering the first thing she comes in contact with besides Muthr destroyed her home and forced her into the world. Both Rovender and Eva form a friendship, which comes in handy along their many adventures. Absolutely clueless about where she came from and where she can find more humans, Eva embarks on this quest of self-discovery and finds more than she bargined for in the end.

The ending is just the beginning in what is promised to be a trilogy. Also just the beginning is the book itself. Utilizing new technology, DiTerlizzi explains how readers can use the book to unlock “a hidden feature: a three-dimensional interactive map allowing you to follow the sights and sounds of Eva Nine’s journey”. There’s a movie on Youtube of DiTerlizzi describing the feature, and someone who has already tried to this technology. Honestly, I was a little skeptical of the quality and content, as it sounded a little gimmicky to me. And while I still think it sounds gimmicky, I was unable to get the software to load on my computer at home, so I wasn’t able to test drive it myself.

Instead, I played the matching game available on the website, and that is quite addictive. It’s actually not a true matching game, but one of those games where you’re supposed to identify the differences with “one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other” playing in the background. But based on what I’ve seen of this book, the website is an added bonus, because the book stands on its own in an incredible way. A home run hit, with an ending that will have readers satisfied and yet anxiously awaiting the next adventure.