Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman
YA | Horror
Released January 11, 2003
Published by Simon Pulse
Goodreads | Amazon
How many of us judge a book by its cover?
As much as I hate to admit it, I do. Frequently, actually.
This is one of those occasions where I needed to remind myself that I’m not supposed to do that. I find the cover of Neal Shusterman’s Full Tilt absolutely atrocious, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
Full Tilt is a young adult horror novel that takes place at the night-time carnival of your nightmares.
The novel focuses on two brothers, Blake and Quinn. Quinn has obvious emotional and anger problems and doesn’t quite fit in with Blake and his friends. One night, Blake, Quinn, and Blake’s friends Maggie and Russ go to a theme park together. At one of the game booths, Blake is approached by a mysterious woman who hands him an invitation to a secret, night-time carnival.
Blake has no intention of going until he finds his brother Quinn passed out with the invitation in his pocket. Blake believes that Quinn has left his body and gone to the carnival. Obviously, you have to suspend your belief with this novel, but it’s very well done.
Blake, Maggie, and Russ show up at the secret carnival, where they are told they have to finish all seven rides before dawn. This seems simple enough… at first. As they proceed through the carnival they realize that the rides have deadly and mind-altering consequences. People that don’t make it out of the park by dawn or that get lost during one of the rides is stuck in the carnival forever, becoming a literal part of it.
Blake, who ends up facing most of the rides alone, is determined to save Quinn from becoming part of the carnival. At the same time, however, he also has to come face to face with a horrific part of his past.
I believe Full Tilt is the first young adult horror novel I’ve ever read. The tone of the story is such that you can definitely tell it’s written for readers around high school age. Even though bits of the story may have felt too young for me at times, I still enjoyed the ride (ahem).
I thought the representation of PTSD was solid, as Blake has immense trouble coping with an event that happened when he was young. As fun as this novel was, it still dealt with a serious condition that you don’t often see in young adult novels. Aside from PTSD, it also dealt with depression (Quinn’s) and divorce.
The character development of Blake and Quinn is solid, although the side characters aren’t nearly as well-developed. Part of the reason why this novel is so enticing is due to the brotherly relationship between Blake and Quinn, who are vastly different and rarely see eye-to-eye.
“The park tapped into our longings, our fears, our habits, and our choices. This minefield had been perfectly, strategically, placed to cause the most damage if Quinn and I followed our normal patterns of behavior when we encountered it. So much of my life had been under tight control. So much of Quinn’s life had been wild insanity. What we needed now was both: a directed burst of controlled insanity.”
Although I have purchased a copy of Neal Shusterman’s Scythe, I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, so Full Tilt was my introduction to his writing. I enjoyed this book enough to find myself interested in his other novels.
If you’re looking for a short, fast-paced, young adult horror novel, look no further. Full Tilt will be perfect for you.