Book Review: Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman

Note: This review is part of the 2016 Summer Reading Diversity Spotlight.

Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman
Release Date: September 1, 2004
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: Young Adult Thriller, Fantasy, Adventure
ISBN: 978-0689873256
Source: Bought
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Sixteen-year-old Blake and his younger brother, Quinn, are exact opposites. Blake is the responsible member of the family. He constantly has to keep an eye on the fearless Quinn, whose thrill-seeking sometimes goes too far. But the stakes get higher when Blake has to chase Quinn into a bizarre phantom carnival that traps its customers forever.

In order to escape, Blake must survive seven deadly rides by dawn, each of which represents a deep, personal fear — from a carousel of stampeding animals to a hall of mirrors that changes people into their deformed reflections. Blake ultimately has to face up to a horrible secret from his own past to save himself and his brother — that is, if the carnival doesn’t claim their souls first!


One of my favorite diverse authors is Neal Shusterman, his Unwind Dystology one of my favorite series ever. So I was excited to finally read Full Tilt, and go on another wild adventure and am so thrilled to say that it did not disappoint.

In Full Tilt, Blake’s greatest fears are personified as an amusement park. After an incident with his younger brother, Blake must board seven rides at this bizarre carnival and conquer the fears that each ride represents in order to save his brother.

I love the character development and relationship dynamics as we discover that Blake and Quinn come from a single parent home that’s also been a bit of a broken home as his father abandoned the family and his mother dated quite often and sometimes, the guys that she dated abused them. So when their mother gets engaged, it’s hard tow rap their head around A) a good guy and B) a good guy sticking around.

Full Tilt is a fantastic metaphor to a life thrown off balance, our lives spinning out of control and what we can do to take back that control. Full Tilt is a thought provoking look at fear, how it allows us to paralyze ourselves or overcome our greatest roadblock – ourselves. Full Tilt is a great exploration of how stillness and movement, order and surrendering mean all of the difference in where our lives go. It does feel message heavy after he realizes the point of each ride so if you can’t look over that, this is not the book for you. This is one of Neal’s earlier works so it’s quite fascinating to see how his writing has evolved since this point in time.

Through Blake, we explore his anxiety over his past trauma and his future hope. We explore the fear of falling, fear of failing, fear of taking everyone down with us. We come to the realization that more often than not when we look in the mirror, we get lost in ourselves and see the tiny truths in a fractured mirror rather than the whole truth in complete frame.

Full Tilt is a great reminder to readers to know when to get on and off the rides of our lives. To have the strength to take the jump, to survive, and to thrive. When we don’t overcome our fears, it often feels like we’re stuck in a nightmare forever. Well, this book plays out that reality and gives us that push we sometimes need to take the jump and overcome.

While Blake is joined by his friends Russ and Maggie as they search for his brother, Quinn, Russ and Maggie (and Quinn) are very much minor characters as we mainly follow Blake. What’s so interesting in that is that he’s on a mission to save his brother, only come to find out that the path he really needs to go down is the one where he saves himself. It was refreshing to read a story about a teenager saving themselves rather than the world. Because we’re part of this world and individually, self care is so important and yet so overlooked. Don’t overlook this one. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Favorite Passage:

The rides are different for everyone. I’m convinced of that now. I mean, sure, there are some we ride together. Either we find ourselves drawn to some common experience, or maybe we’re pulled in by the people we care about. Our friends, our families can drag us onto coasters and Tilt-A-Whirls that are really meant for them. But in the end, no matter whose rides we find ourselves on, the experience is all our own.

Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman is available today.