As an intriguing urban fantasy, Downsiders brings a fascinating twist to the idea of living underground. The curious and unique city known to its residents as Downside, is a well-kept secret resting just below New York City. The Downsiders live off of the scraps left from the Topsiders and have managed to thrive in their unusual environment. The book zeros in on Talon Angler, a a fourteen-year-old boy who cannot help but dream of the mysterious world just outside of Downsides boundaries. According to Downsider law, it is forbidden to explore the brutal, ruthless land of Topside. Unfortunately, Talon’s little sister Pidge catches a persistent sickness that causes him to worry that she may not survive. He does know however, that there may be medicine in the Topside that can cure Pidge, prompting him to take the risk of journeying to Topside. During is search for Pidge’s medicine, he runs into a Topside girl named Lindsey. Overtime, they become close, despite the many factors that should have kept them apart. Talon’s risky actions have a monumental impact on both Topside and Downside and irrevocably alters the Downsider lifestyle.
Neal Shusterman creates a delightful book with creative ideas, a well-developed setting, and a variety of symbols. When I first started reading Downsiders, I read “underground city” and all I could think of was fetid, dismal sewers and miserable people. However, Shusterman manages to completely turn around that idea. Stunning art made from junk and peculiar baubles fills underground chambers, electric fans blow the worst of the smell away, and the people themselves are clean from water drawn from the pipes surrounding them. The Downsider culture itself is fascinating with a different educational process and particular rituals. Many of these ideas are new and uncommon, bringing the story to life and keeping the reader captivated to every word. The author manages to describes the unique qualities of the Downsider culture and home so vividly that it almost seems plausible to the reader for such a city to exist. Many parts of the book refer back to certain simple symbols that are developed throughout the book. By the end, those same symbols hold complex meanings, extensive ideas, and a multitude of thematic topics. Shusterman’s writing style of using interesting ideas, developing symbols, and building a detailed setting definitely makes the book original and enchanting.
This book was a bit too predictable for my taste and missed the complexity that is usually in the books I read, but was not too bad regardless. In my opinion, Downsiders is probably meant for a younger audience, but I feel it could be enjoyed as a quick read for any age. Many of the symbols and what they imply of human nature will likely be better understood by older readers.