Review: Last Bus to Everland – Life Sucks But We’re in it Together

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Title: Last Bus to Everland
Author: Sophie Cameron
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: June 18th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Contemporary, Portal Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 336 (hardback)

Rating: 8.0/10

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Brody Fair feels like nobody gets him: not his overworked parents, not his genius older brother, and definitely not the girls in the projects set on making his life miserable. Then he meets Nico, an art student who takes Brody to Everland, a “knock-off Narnia” that opens its door at 11:21pm each Thursday for Nico and his band of present-day misfits and miscreants.

Here Brody finds his tribe and a weekly respite from a world where he feels out of place. But when the doors to Everland begin to disappear, Brody is forced to make a decision: He can say goodbye to Everland and to Nico, or stay there and risk never seeing his family again. Will Nico take the last bus to Everland?

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“You’re magic, Fairy. Remember that.”

Surprises can be a hit or a miss for me. Sometimes it’s like sticking my hand in a mystery box and hoping nothing cuts my fingers off.

I came into Everland thinking it’d be a light and quirky story about a boy who goes to a magical world and discovers himself while befriending a band of misfits. Instead, I got something more quiet and poignant: a story about mental health and identity and what happens when life becomes too heavy to bear on your own.

So I think things worked out pretty well with this one. All fingers intact.

If you’re looking for a portal fantasy story with an emphasis on “fantasy,” this probably isn’t for you because Everland is one of the least developed portal fantasy worlds I’ve come across. That’s not entirely a criticism, though, because detailed worldbuilding wouldn’t have fit the vibe of the story. It’s supposed to be a world that’s magical in a vague and scattered kind of way, more like a virtual reality club than an actual fantasy setting–cool things to see (massive libraries, festivals, beaches) and interesting people to meet, but not a whole lot of depth to it all. A place that’s different enough from the the real world for it to be an escape.

There were definitely moments where I wished I had something more to chew on, but overall I didn’t mind it.

So what makes the book good? First of all, it’s a YA contemporay-ish novel that’s set in Scotland which already sets it apart from most of its peers. Secondly, Brody’s narration is easy and charming (I loved his Scottish brogue) and his empathy pulls your right in. Thirdly, the cast is super diverse–Everland allows people from all over the world to mingle–and they’re all interesting characters with their own little backstories.

Fourthly, and most importantly (for me, anyway): the mental health representation. Pretty much every character is struggling with something in their lives. Like Cameron’s father, for example, which was a complete surprise for me because we don’t often see father figures in media going through mental health issues. Either they’re strong and well put-together, or their illness manifests in violent and abusive tendencies. Empathetic portrayals are few and far between.

Well, serious kudos to Cameron because Brody’s father has agoraphobia and her portrayal of it is stunningly real and painful.

What I love most about the story, though, is that it explores the invisible hardships that people deal with on a daily basis–depression, anxiety, phobias, eating disorders–and the idea that just because you think someone’s life is perfect and untroubled, doesn’t mean it actually is.

When I was in undergrad, a friend opened up about how she was going through anxieties and depressive episodes and how uncertain she was about her future. Then she punctuated it by saying that I couldn’t possibly understand her feelings because I was happy; I had a loving boyfriend and knew exactly what I wanted to do once I graduated.

And well. Talk about words that make you feel small.

I get why she said it. Often times we can be so wrapped up in our own heads that we don’t see past our own darkness. And we can’t help but weigh our suffering on a scale and see how it compares to someone else’s. See whose life comes out the shittiest. But I think that’s a train of thought that only does harm in the long run, breeding resentment in a world that already has its fair share.

Life is hard and people hurt in different ways. Ways that aren’t often visible to others. Your rich and successful neighbour might be dealing with panic attacks on a regular basis. Your friend who wears a smile 24/7 might be wrestling with suicidal thoughts. You just don’t know sometimes. Your demons don’t negate the existence of other people’s demons and, conversely, other people’s demons don’t make yours worth any less. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

And the book addresses all of that in a beautifully candid way. Characters get open and honest about their feelings by the end of the story, and it’s touching to see friends and families air their problems and come together in moments of mutual understanding. A lot of “You feel that way? I’m sorry, I didn’t know that” and “I know what you mean–I’ve felt that way too.” Some people might call it cheesy; I found it cathartic.

Everland isn’t a book that had me bouncing off the walls and wanting to scream from the rooftops, but it is a book that made me feel warm and satisfied and a little wistful. Like waking up smiling from a dream and trying to chase the tail ends of it.

And sometimes that’s enough.

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Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

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17 thoughts on “Review: Last Bus to Everland – Life Sucks But We’re in it Together

  1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

    Brilliant review! I keep seeing this book and thinking about picking it up, and now I know I definitely will at some point. I love what you said about mental health and how we tend to compare ourselves to others – you’re so right! There are more books openly talking about mental health now than when I was teenager (and the ones that were around tended to be quite pessimistic) so I’m really keen to check this one out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Thank you!! And yeah, when I was a teen, a lot of the trending YA books were about death (for both contemporary and speculative) and how mental illnesses lead to teenage suicides. Which was super depressing. So I’m happy there are so many more positive discussions of mental health in stories right now.

      I’m planning on checking out Sophie Cameron’s other book this weekend! It’s f/f and has fallen angels which sounds like all sorts of amazing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 24hr.YaBookBlog says:

    Thanks so much for recommending this to me on my Slice Of Life Fantasy post! 💞 I’ve seen this book around on twitter and your review convinced me to add it to my TBR! Hoping to check it out in the near future–loved the review!! 😍✨📚

    Like

  3. Susy's Cozy World says:

    I wasn’t so interested in this book, because portal fantasy aren’t my favorite and from the little I have heard about it it was too much “magical realism” for my tastes, but what you wrote here really get to me and now I have a new title to add on my neverending list!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Aww I’m so glad to hear that! I wasn’t a huge fan of portal fantasy in the past either (b/c I didn’t find their worldbuilding super interesting), but in the past several years there’s been a surge of books that use portal fantasy as a medium to talk about mental health, otherness, and identity. And I just can’t get enough of that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. waytoofantasy says:

    Ooooh, how have I not heard of this one??? It sounds like something I’d love, but also for the mental health rep–it’s near and dear to me and I feel like there should be more of it in fantasy in general (have seen an uptick in recent years so that’s good at least). Great review, def adding this to my list.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer says:

    You make this sound brilliant Kathy! I hadn’t even heard of the book and yet I felt myself reaching for my TBR. Funny when I read you say the portal world wasn’t really developed I wasn’t expecting what came next but characters will always fill in for me too. Especially when mental health is explored so well. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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