The Search for WondLa
Eva Nine has lived her entire life in an underground Sanctuary. Her every need is met. The bunker has a garden that grows her food. There is a holography chamber where she learns about the outside world. She even has a robotic caretaker called Muthr (Multi Utility Task Help Robot) who looks after her. Eva longs to see the outside world, but the protective Muthr thinks she is not prepared. This all changes when the Sanctuary is attacked. Eva’s training helps her to survive, but much of what she’s learned is useless in a world where the technology she has depended upon no longer functions, or cannot guide her through a world it does not recognize. Carrying her most prized possession --- a picture of a child, a grownup, and a robot bearing a torn inscription reading “WondLa” --- Eva sets out to see if she can find other humans who can tell her who she is, where she is, and what has happened to the world she thought she once knew.
Author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi, best known for his Spiderwick Chronicles collaboration with Holly Black, has made his reputation on illustrations of unknown worlds. With hints of Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars, THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA is built around the 70 illustrations that accompany the book. Eva’s journey takes her through numerous landscapes and two cities filled with fantastical creatures. Joining Eva on her travels is Rovender Kitt, a friendly vagabond who has the appearance of a mix between an ostrich, a reptile and a goat. There is also Otto, the enormous water bear, who communicates telepathically and is the size of a mammoth, while resembling a bear crossed with a turtle. These kinds of creatures --- including sentient plants --- fill the world of Orbona and make Eva the alien in an unfamiliar landscape.
DiTerlizzi also fills the world with inventions both new and old. A vocal transcoder given to her by Rovender utilizes a dust of tiny transmitters to allow Eva to understand the inhabitants of Orbona. But many of the technologies she relies upon as a part of her daily life in the Sanctuary do not work outside. Later she finds many of them housed in the imperial city’s museum where the Empress of Orbona also hopes to add Eva to her collection. One of the most essential pieces of technology Eva uses is an omnipod, which looks something like a spyglass, and helps her interface with all the other technologies in her Sanctuary. Hoping to add to the interactive quality of the text, THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA also has a website where readers can download software for “WondLaVision.” By holding up pictures from the book to the computer’s camera, readers can unlock a map of WondLa that displays animated cutouts of the characters traveling across the map. While not as interactive as I had expected it to be, it certainly speaks to the enormous amount of design and planning that went into this beautifully produced book.
In an interview with School Library Journal, DiTerlizzi talked about his inspiration for creating a novel-length book with so many illustrations. “I have always wondered why there is an unwritten rule about bookmaking that says, “the older the audience the less art there should be.” Yet, if you go back a century and examine titles from The Golden Age of Children's Books, they abound with mature and sophisticated tales matched with mature and sophisticated visuals…The art is exquisite and hardly juvenile --- and that was when books were not competing with the highly visual mediums of television, films, and video games for a child's attention.”
Despite the interactive elements and a space-age setting, DiTerlizzi sees THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA as part of a larger storytelling tradition. He writes, “Yes, WondLa is full of many classic sci-fi elements (robots, aliens, hovercraft, etc.), but it is a fairy tale at its heart. It contains many familiar fairy-tale plot motifs we all know of: a little girl lost in the woods, an evil huntsman after her, forest spirits who aid her in response to her own kindness and an uncaring queen who rules the land.”
THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA is the first book in a planned trilogy. At nearly 500 pages, it ends with an enormous reveal about the location of Orbona and a cliffhanger involving Eva’s quest for other humans. The novel is best for readers who enjoy extensive world-building and can cherish the kind of detail with which DiTerlizzi imbues his world.