No Passengers Beyond This Point
by Gennifer Choldenko
Dial Books For Young Readers
I only recently got around to watching Lost. My husband and I plowed through all 6 seasons in a few weeks. I was a reluctant convert, but I eventually became pretty addicted. And in my withdrawal, I was craving something Lost-like—preferably a book. Something with a little of the mystery still intact at the end, perhaps. Something for a young audience. And lo and behold, it fell into my lap like a bird from the sky.
No Passengers Beyond This Point is the story of a family longing for home. India, Finn and Mouse Tompkins live in a single parent household. Their father died when Mouse was an infant and their mother, struggling on a teacher’s salary, can’t keep up with the mortgage. The kids are forced to move to Colorado to live with their Uncle Red, who they hardly know. They are given just one day’s notice before they have to fly to Denver, a few months ahead of their mother who has to finish the school year. They are all apprehensive. To top it all off, they have to leave the family dog, Henry, behind. Nobody is happy. They are leaving their family home and their dog to live with a stranger. From this very emotionally charged set-up, a brilliant, dreamy adventure is born.
Their plane takes them, not to Denver (or, as the signs in the airport read: Not Denver, Not Boise, Not Chicago, etc.), but to an impossibly beautiful city. A small, friendly guy (who looks suspiciously like a kid) takes them by pink, feathered taxi to a picture perfect neighborhood. They are greeted by skywriting, billboards, and crowds of eager fans before they enter their dream homes. And they don’t have to share—there’s one home for each of them, each containing that child’s particular obsessions, and overseen by an alternative parent. India’s house comes with a complete wardrobe, with clothes particularly suited to her taste. Mouse’s alterna-mom meets her at the door with a plate of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies in one hand and a science book in the other. She spends the day making her own volcano. Finn’s house has it’s own basketball court with a scoreboard and dad to play with him. But the fantasy only lasts for one day. After that, the Tompkins’s have to figure out how to find their way back to their real home—wherever that may be. Suddenly things aren’t so dreamy anymore.
Gennifer Choldenko does not waste pages explaining the hows and whys of the fantastical voyage. Instead she just shows it to us. Choldenko understands that we don’t need to know in excruciating detail why everything is the way it is, and how it got there. She also knows that if there are some dots to connect, she does not need to connect them all for us. She just needs to leave the right clues for her reader. And that she does. She also knows how to create funny and poignant family dynamic, with beautifully and economically drawn characters. The dialogue is snappy and full of wit, even though the situation the family faces is harrowing.
I do have a couple of minor quibbles. The oldest sibling, India is central to the story, but she is the least likable character. Her dialogue is great—with some nice little wisecracks and jaded teenage insights. But the narrative from her perspective often seems a bit familiar, and too much like that of a standard bitter adolescent—excessively self-absorbed. That might be accurate, but it can be hard to empathize with her. I wish that she were struggling with a bit more than how she can get back to her best friend, Maddy. Or if that is indeed what she’s struggling with, that we could see why it’s a such a struggle to leave her behind when Maddy seems like a pretty lousy friend.
I also wish we didn’t reach the final act so quickly. I would love to have a bit more of the world they’ve been cast in—which is an amazing child’s fantasy. The houses, the taxi, the mysterious dark shoots, the odd politics and the byzantine establishment that runs it all are fascinating and original. I really wanted to languish in it longer, and I think kids will want to as well.
Overall, No Passengers Beyond this Point is a delightful and poignant adventure with lots of memorable dialogue and characters. And the cherry on top is how this novel resolves itself. I will not undermine the author by connecting the dots when she’s left them for you to connect. But readers will be very pleased with the picture this story creates and with themselves for helping to complete it.