Review: Brainwalker by Robyn Mundell & Stephan Lacast

★★★★ Brainwalker

“Getting inside someone’s head” tends to be a figurative idea, or turn of phrase, but in Brainwalker, the boundlessly creative new novel from Robyn Mundell and Stephan Lacast, the concept is taken quite literally. This fast-paced novel takes readers deep into the actual human brain – and beyond.

Bernard is a typical YA literature protagonist – an unusual teen with some personality quirks who is suddenly thrown into an extraordinary situation. For Bernard, that situation arises when his curiosity gets the best of him in his father’s lab, who happens to be a particle physicist. After fiddling like any mischievous child would, he is transported through a wormhole. Instead of landing in a different universe, however, he is instead transported to the core of his father’s brain. Bernard quickly discovers that the internal universe is just as complex and difficult to navigate as the outside world of normal reality.

As Bernard meets the “people inside people” and explores the Brainiverse, he discovers that a battle is raging there between creativity and compromise, between youthful vigor and aging stagnation. He is able to witness the incredible functioning of his father’s brain, as well as its vulnerabilities.

The differences between the left brain and right brain have always fascinated neuroscientists, but most laymen don’t completely understand their interdependent relationship. Bernard not only has to adjust to this microscopic universe into which he’s been plunged, but also pull off the greatest rescue mission the inhabitants of the Brainiverse have ever seen. With memorable characters, a remarkably unique premise and fast, smart writing, this adventure is more than a whimsical tale; it is one that touches on philosophy and human behavior as a whole.

From a higher level of thinking, Bernard is a classic example of how every brain is a unique and indescribably powerful machine, even if we don’t completely understand how they each work. As he struggles through the confusing ways that his own mind functions, and identifies parts of his father’s brain that control certain emotions and impulses, readers are given a more tangible map of their own brain. For those who feel dominated by their “vicious master,” this book suggests ways to alter your thinking and change your own life. This cleverly wrought story is also a manifesto on imagination and the importance of thinking outside the box. Extraordinary situations require extraordinary creativity, which is precisely what Bernard delivers in this uplifting book.

The novel is clearly directed at young, teenage readers, but the plot and underlying ideas are still advanced enough for adults to enjoy the one-of-a-kind premise. The main criticism is the writing is rather basic and not fully fleshed-out – some of the syntax is noticeably choppy, and the dialogue is often quite stiff, sounding somewhat unnatural.

That aside, the scope and scale of the Brainiverse created by Mundell and Lacast is truly impressive, and there are very few holes in the story. As a whole, Brainwalker is an inspiring and amusing read written by an ingenious duo of authors with plenty to say – to both young and old readers alike.

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