[REVIEW] Downsiders

Series: N/A
Neal Shusterman
young adult, science fiction, romance, adventure
November 10, 2009 (first published June 1, 1999)
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Fear the Topside, or be crushed by its embrace. 
Beneath the sewer grates and manholes of the city lies a strange and secret world called the Downside. Every Downsider knows that it’s forbidden to go Topside. But fourteen-year-old Talon is curious about what goes above ground, and when he ventures out in search of medicine for his ailing sister, he meets Lindsay, who is as curious about Talon’s world as he is about hers. 
When Lindsay visits the Downside for the first time, she is awed and amazed by the spirit of the Downsiders, and the way they create marvelous works of art from Topside “trash.” But when she discovers that this fantastic world is not all it appears to be, she is determined to tell Talon the truth. Then a construction accident threatens to crush Talon’s world, and his loyalty is put to the test. Can the truth save the Downside, or will it destroy an entire civilization?

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There were some truths that gained value by being proclaimed, and others whose greatest virtue is that they remain unknown. Better that the truth be like the moon, which Talon had so briefly spied above the Topside night – a bright sphere only showing half of its face at a time, leaving the rest to be uncovered fragment by fragment, in its own proper time.

*             *             *

Two things about Downsiders for me: (1) the fascinating civilization of the Downsiders, and (2) the beautifully written characters.

Downsiders didn't completely absorbed me but I’d say that it’s instantly one of my stronger reads this year. I just LOVE its world, the Downside. Downsiders has a very fascinating world. The people of the Downside are baffled by the Topsider’s (people who live above grounds, typically us) way of living. Here’s an excerpt of Talon’s thoughts about the Topsiders.

“All day long Topsiders hurry from one tower to another, in uncomfortable shoes. They race around in a circle from avenue to avenue, getting some money each time they go around, then giving it right back to rich people, who own the streets.”

It’s quite an interesting thought, in my opinion. The Downsiders’ thoughts about the Topsiders’ culture make this an even more fascinating read. This is because the Downsiders think that the Topsiders live a hassling and (probably) miserable life with endless work. The Downsiders round the Topside in order to ‘save’ people who have been forsaken or have given up on the Topside life. It’s quite odd that the Downsiders think Downside life is the greater life, the better life, when they are living on an abandoned subway system. But very interesting all together. It's even better when you really get to experience yourself the Downsider's culture. The descriptions of the place as well as the how's and why's of things around the Downside is very interesting, in my opinion. And the overall explanation or the real beginning of the Downsiders is another fascinating part of the story – Quickly explained but very interesting (and maybe realistic, even).

Another thing about Downsiders is that its world is wildly (and fictionally) connected to a real historical personAlfred Beach. This is one of the things I love about Shusterman’s writing – he gets to relate his stories to historical events, people, articles (as exhibited in Unwind).

Similar to Unwind, I just fell in love with Shusterman’s characters here in Downsiders. Talon, a Downsider who’s curious about the Topside world, was brought into a larger than the Downside crisis – the Great Shaft Disaster. He was faced with difficult choices in life a fourteen-year-old should dread to face and how he goes about these choices was really well done. He is bravery at its best, and loyalty and love to the culture he was brought up into like no other.

There’s also Lindsay, the Topsider who became curious of Talon’s world after their first encounter. Lindsay, for me, is more like the character that’ll dig things up because of her curiosity. She’s got a hell shit life with her step-brother and for all she cares about her father isn’t out there to bond with her. She focused her attention on Talon’s fascinating world once she get to know him and get to explore the mesmerizing and odd civilization of the Downsiders.

Other characters are also very engaging. There’s Railborn who plays the role of Talon’s shadow. He’s this guy who’d like to take Talon’s shoes. Then there’s Gutta who admires Talon more than anyone. She thinks highly of him because of how he remains strong and loyal to the Downside. The development on both Gutta and Railborn is very interesting, especially Railborn. The Champ, who lives independently (and who’s more like a free homeless guy~~), is more like the advice giving guy helping both Talon and Lindsay.

The climax of Downsiders is something I probably won’t forget. From the moment the Downside was breached to the Talon’s return, Downsiders was just very engaging. It’s very easy to imagine things and it was also quite difficult to putdown because of all the character choices, their thoughts, their dilemmas, and other more things that made every character even more captivating. They all shine at the end. Talon’s bravery and loyalty was tested and shown, Railborn was tested and held a great dilemma which eventually led to greater things at the end, Lindsay was able to know things that doesn’t concern her but greatly helped out Talon, and other more things.

AND finally, let me not forget the romance. It’s very subtle. It’s this kind of romance that I really just love to read at times. Books that involves romance but do not focus on it so much (especially on physical attraction and such) is very interesting. The development of the romance between Talon and Lindsay is very visible yet it’s very light because the story really just focuses on the world of the Downsiders and how they face the ‘invasion’ of the Topsiders.

*             *             *

What I Like: (1) the Downside, (2) the characters especially Talon!, (3) the imagery of the world of the Downsiders, (4) Talon’s thoughts about the Topside – his appreciation, and such, (5) its relation to a real historical person, Alfred Beach, (6) its occasional humorous description of the Topside, (7) the oh-so beautiful way of ending this mesmerizing story

What I Didn’t Like: N/A

beautiful and fascinating Downside civilization + beautifully written characters + very engaging climax  = A VERY UNFORGETTABLE WORLD!

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