Warning: Contains Plot Spoilers!
By Brent Hartinger
Zach lives with his grandparents on a remote island in Puget Sound in Washington State. With only his little brother, Gilbert, to keep him company, Zach feels cut off from the world. But when Gilbert is kidnapped, Zach tries the only thing he can think of to find him: astral projection. Soon, his spirit is soaring through the strange and boundless astral realm—a shadow place. While searching for his brother, Zach meets a boy named Emory, another astral traveler who’s intriguing (and cute).
As Zach and Emory track the kidnappers from the astral realm, their bond grows—but each moment could be Gilbert’s last. Even worse, there’s a menacing, centuries-old creature in their midst that devours souls and possesses physical bodies. And it’s hungry for Zach.
Major Themes and Ideas
(1) No one is an island (at least if he doesn’t want to be). People are much more powerful when working together than they are as individuals.
(2) Little by little, evil acts change a person in a fundamental way.
(3) The universe is a place of both endless wonder, but also profound danger.
(4) True power is discipline of the mind.
(1) Throughout the book, shadows and darkeness are used as metaphors. What are they metaphors for?
(2) How is Zach different at the end of the book than he was at the beginning? How does the author illustrate the change in Zach’s emotional and psychological state? What does the metaphor of Hinder Island represent, and what is the meaning of its name?
(3) The author has said he deliberately intended there to be parallels between the cyber-world and the astral dimension. How are the two realms alike, and how are they different? How is the danger that Zach and Emory find in the astral realm like the danger a teenager might find online?
(4) Many philosophies and religion believe that a “spiritual” realm exists beyond the physical one, and that people can sometimes travel there, either before or after death. Do you believe in such a realm? Is it possible to “prove” such a place or such travel exists and, if so, how? Why do you think that people believe in such a place even if they can’t prove it?
(5) Zach and Emory become intimate very quickly. Is this possible or realistic? Have you ever had the experience of external events making you feel close to someone you might not otherwise have bonded with? Why do you think this happens?
(6) Over the course of the book, Zach has the experience of realizing that something he desperately wanted—a connection with another person—was with him all along in the form of his little brother Gilbert, but he didn’t quite realize it until after Gilbert was gone. Have you ever had the experience of taking something for granted until after it was gone?
(7) Zach takes a shortcut into the astral dimension. What’s the danger in taking a shortcut? Do shortcuts ever have a place in life? Is it necessary to sometimes make mistakes in order to learn? Are there “good” shortcuts and “bad” ones? Which did Zach take?
(8) What exactly happens when Zach and Emory are hanging in space above the earth? How is what they do the same as a sexual encounter, and how is it different?
(9) Does a person exist apart from his or her physical “body”? Do you believe in the existence of the human soul? If the soul or spirit don’t exist, does that mean human existence is somehow less valuable or meaningful?
Suggested Class Projects
(1) Study the history of astral projection and spiritual travel, and its relation to some of the world’s major religions.
(2) Study island life. If there are islands nearby where you live, consider or assign a visit to an island, especially if it is not connected to the mainland via a bridge. Have students try to observe and write about the ways in which people and communities are different on an island than they tend to be on the mainland.
(3) Explore meditation.