The Rusty Key's Reviews > The Search for WondLa

The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi
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Jan 12, 2012

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Reviewed by Rusty Key Writer: Becca Worthington

Recommended for: Boys and girls, ages 10 and up

One Word Summary: Vibrant.

I’m fairly sure that every child at some point wants a robot. Like most children, I wanted one to clean my room for me. I think my sister wanted a robot because it would be a cool thing to take to show and tell and my brother wanted one that he could train to shoot guns at bad guys. But regardless the reason, my friends and siblings and I all wanted robots.

Eva Nine, the protagonist of Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Search for Wondla, actually has one. A twelve-year-old girl who has never met another human, Eva Nine has been raised underground in highly technological sanctuary and fully functioning living quarters with only a robot, Muthr (Multi-Utility Task Help Robot), to keep her company. She and Muthr spend a great deal of their time in holographic chambers doing 3D simulations of life and death exercises, in an effort to train Eva Nine in the plant and animal life aboveground on earth that she has never seen, in preparation for the day that she is ready to emerge.

Unfortunately, that day happens sooner than unexpected, forced upon her when a monstrous roving huntsman, an animal known as Besteel armed with a sonic boomrod, infiltrates the underground lair and blows it to smithereens. Muthr safely sends Eva Nine up the escape hatch in the nick of time, with instructions to run for the nearest underground facility where she will hopefully meet other humans.
But when Eva Nine emerges above ground, the land she enters looks nothing like the simulations. Her Omnipod (a hand-held holographic device that does everything from giving voice-activated First Aid instructions to identifying all known images and sounds for informational purposes) does not recognize a single animal or plant around her from its database. The plants are carnivorous, she can’t understand the languages spoken to her by passing creatures, and when she is finally given a decoding translator device by a lizard-like, teal-skinned wandering creature named Rovender, she hears him say two terrifying things: (1) she is not actually on Earth, but on a planet called Orbona, and (2) in all of Rovender’s travels, he has never seen or heard of any other humans anywhere on the planet. She is entirely alone.

He agrees to escort her to the nearest underground facility, but they reach it only to discover that it is long abandoned. She makes a new, desperate plan. All that she owns is a torn portion of a very old photograph of another human, arm in arm with a robot, and the remaining letters “Wond… La.” Without further guidance and still being chased by Besteel and his team of equally sinister hunters, Eva Nine and Rovender, along with a large, gentle water bear named Otto that communicates with Eva Nine telepathically, decide to go on a quest for the mystical “WondLa” and see if it holds the answers that they so desperately need.

It would be impossible to talk about the experience of reading The Search for Wondla (first book in the WondLa trilogy) without immediately noting the magic of the illustrations throughout. The images DiTerlizzi has created—of Eva Nine, of Muthr, of Rovender, of Otto, of Besteel, of the world itself with new trees, original and oftentimes disturbing made-up animals at every turn, invented technology, wrecks and ruins—all of them are flawlessly, exquisitely detailed and wildly imaginative. They breathe life into the story at every arc and subplot.

The journey itself, as well, is quite alive. The premise is wonderful, as a modern-day hyper-futuristic exploration and reinterpretation of The Wizard of Oz: one lone girl (Eva Nine/Dorothy) with a big-hearted metal being (Muthr/Tin-Man), an intelligent friend (Rovender/Scarecrow), and a gentle giant (Otto/Cowardly Lion), on a quest for “home” across colorful and dangerous terrain (WondLa/Oz). I should admit that I was disappointed that the actual storytelling didn’t eventually live up to the story itself or the imaginative splendor of the world created within the pages. But while the dialogue was at times unnatural and the characters could have benefited from some additional layering, I must still reiterate that the illustrations alone are so exquisite that they make it worth picking up this book. Flaws aside, The Search for Wondla has managed to create a new wonderland all its own.

For more reviews, author interviews, reading lists, and feature articles from The Rusty Key, visit us at www.therustykey.com
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