Full Tilt by Neal Schusterman

Posted January 16, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

Full Tilt

Full Tilt

by Neal Shusterman

Publisher: Simon & Schuster on January 11, 2003
Genre: Carnivals, Horror, Thriller
Target Age Group: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

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!


I know a lot of people really like Neal Schusterman. He’s one of those authors I’ve had on my TBR for years, but for one reason or another, I just haven’t read yet. Trust me, it’s not for lack of desire – I actually have a hardcopy of Scythe on my shelf I got on a good special a couple years ago that simply hasn’t popped out of the TBR Jar yet. I got my copy of Full Tilt for $3 on Audible a couple years ago, and it’s been sitting on my audiobook TBR ever since.

In fact, I have no definitive reason why I decided today would be the day to read it.  I was scrolling through my Audible and saw the title and thought, “Sure!”.

It’s was exactly perfect timing.

While I know other people will scream praises of his more recent novels, I’m really glad I started with Full Tilt.  I’m afraid if I didn’t, I wouldn’t like it as much as I did.  Full Tilt is like a love letter to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes crossed with the campy thrills of a Goosebumps novel. Thirteen-year-old me would have loved this book. Thirty-year-old me did as well. It was just the right level of horror to be interesting but not gory, and there were so many elements in the book that kept me on edge.  Schusterman did a great job of building a ghost carnival overflowing with imagination.  It sucks the reader in… literally, and figuratively.

In the modern world of YA., Full Tilt probably comes off as oversimplified.  The characters are impulsive and genuine and emotional. They react rashly, and care about shallow things.  And they’re sixteen, so all of this makes perfect sense.  The characters in this novel are the most realistic teenagers I’ve read in a while.  Adult readers of YA expect unreasonable levels of maturity from their characters, but guess what?  I don’t think any of us were perfectly rational, calculated people at that age.  I know I wasn’t!  Their flaws make them that much more real.

Despite the setting and the length of the book (only xx pages), Schusterman’ not only manages to provide a plot with a ticking clock and great rising and falling actions, fabulous world building, and multilayered characters… he manages to deliver so many small gems of wisdom in each experience.  On one hand, these wholesome moments can be cheesy.  But it’s also great writing.  Full Tilt feels properly like a book written for teens, with a purpose other than entertainment.  Schusterman has a clear message of strength and acceptance and self-worth he wants his readers to take away from this experience.

Generally speaking, I liked this book so much.  I had no expectations, then I walked into a book about a secret carnival, kidnapped siblings, and a battle for the main character’s soul until sunrise?  Any one of those things would have had me picking up this book.  For me, Full Tilt is one of those diamond-in-the-rough books that comes out of nowhere and has me wanting to scream about it to the world.  It’s horribly underrated in a genre that has become so focused on female protagonists, adult consumers, and sappy romance.  Full Tilt is fun, spooky, and delightful.  I wholeheartedly recommend you add it to your TBR.


Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★
Narrator: ★★★ 1/2
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★
Overall: ★★★★★


Which ride would you most hate to be stuck on in a carnival?  I’m terrified of heights, so those tower drops would be the ones to get me!  Share your scariest carnival experiences in the comments!

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2 responses to “Full Tilt by Neal Schusterman

  1. Good to know you enjoyed this one! I have a few of Shusterman’s older novels on my TBR (I have read and enjoyed the Everlost and Unwind books, plus Dry) but not, I think, this one. I might have to check it out.

    • Amber

      It was a great quick read! I don’t often get to listen to a full audiobook in a day, so that was a treat. Also I’m just a sucker for good carnival stories – if you like them as well, you may enjoy this one!