YA Weekend: Never Never by Brianna R. Shrum

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Never NeverNever Never by Brianna R. Shrum

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Spencer Hill Press (9/22/15)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Never Never confirms what I’ve always suspected – that Peter Pan is a twisted and evil little psycho! Even as a little kid watching the Disney movie, I always felt something was off about him. Seriously, why does everyone love Peter Pan? He’s kind of a dick.

Actually, now that I think about it, it’s a wonder how I haven’t come across a book like this sooner. I’ve always had a penchant for interesting and imaginative retellings, and Peter Pan stories are my weakness. I can never resist them. There’s just something about the original tale which lends itself to so many interpretations, and the nature of Neverland as a boundary-free and adventurous place in the minds of children, never the same from one person to the next, strikes me as whimsical and yet a bit unnerving at the same time. I find that aspect very interesting, and as it happens, Never Never makes use of it to good effect.

So, clearly I didn’t need much more incentive to check out this book. But the main draw of it and what eventually sealed the deal for me was the fact this story isn’t really about Peter Pan. It’s about James Hook. Never Never presents an intriguing scenario. What if the relationship between Pan and Hook went back much further than we thought? What if Hook wasn’t from Neverland, but instead grew up in London where he was whisked away from Kensington Gardens like all of Peter’s other Lost Boys?

Unlike the others though, James actually wanted to grow up. As a boy, he thought going to Neverland with Peter Pan would be the greatest holiday adventure, but soon discovers that the place is not all it’s cracked up to be. Peter is an arrogant and heartless tyrant, keeping the Lost Boys under his thumb, never allowing anyone to leave, and even the island’s weather is subject to his whims. Worse, the little maniac’s favorite pastime is killing pirates, which doesn’t sit right with James at all. James has always had a soft spot for pirates; in his old life, being the captain of a pirate ship was one of his greatest dreams.

So, James grows up. In a world that hates grown-ups. He manages to escape Peter’s attempts to kill him, after it becomes clear that James is becoming a man. But even after all these years, James cannot forgive Peter’s lies, or the fact that he stole his life away from him, trapping him in Neverland forever. And so begins the eternal game of cat-and-mouse between Pan and Hook.

First of all, I like getting into the heads of villains. The problem is, these kinds of books are always a bit tricky to pull off. However, Brianna Shrum gives us plenty of good reasons for us to understand why Hook hates Pan, and to be honest, after reading this book I probably wouldn’t say no to a chance to strangle the fairy boy myself. The question is though, does Never Never make Captain James Hook a more sympathetic character?

My answer is: it’s complicated. To understand why, you also have to understand how James Hook is portrayed in this book. The character starts off as a twelve-year-old boy, bamboozled into following the older, cooler Peter Pan to Neverland where he is trapped and grows up to become a man. Physically, James ends up being about twenty-years-old or thereabouts. But mentally (at least to me) he stays twelve, still the little boy who misses his home and his parents, who dreams of becoming a pirate captain, and no matter how much he hates Peter Pan, he still has trouble imagining himself taking a life. The story is in essence a giant tug o’ war with itself, because James is constantly going back and forth in his mind, wanting badly to kill Peter but also not being able to bring himself to do the deed. He’s indecisive and unsure of himself, like a little boy. It’s what sets him apart from Peter, the one is entirely unprincipled and has no morals.

This also makes Never Never tough to categorize. It is a Young Adult novel and goes into some mature themes – coalition killing among the residents of Neverland, pirate debauchery, a hand getting cut off and fed to a crocodile, and so forth – but the tone of the writing feels younger, almost like middle-grade, owing to James’ perspective and the fact that, trapped in this place of dreams, his mind never really had the chance to catch up with his body. It’s a very interesting contrast to see some of these horrible things through the eyes of someone who is technically still a child, and interpret a lot of the other situations in this light. For instance, it struck me that a couple of the pirate characters, like Starkey and Smee, were effectively surrogate parents. They berate James and then tolerate his subsequent tantrums, while in truth, deep down the captain craves nothing more than the approval of his first mate and cook. So yeah, not gonna lie, sometimes sharing James Hook’s headspace can be frustrating as hell, but now and then it can also be quite fascinating.

Ultimately, it’s probably easiest to describe Never Never as a coming-of-age tale. This kind of style is not going to work for everyone, but if you’re a fan of Peter Pan retellings, it might be worth checking out for a different perspective. The book isn’t heavy on plot, placing more emphasis on the protagonist’s internal dialogue and growth – no pun intended. Admittedly, the writing and plotting could do with more polish, but it is nonetheless impressive when taking into account the fact we’re talking about a book from a small independent publishing house. Bottom line, this was an enjoyable story and I really liked how there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface than meets the eye, and it’s not just a tick-tock croc! I had a good time.

4 stars

16 Comments on “YA Weekend: Never Never by Brianna R. Shrum”

  1. While YA (at least in its run-of-the-mill examples) is never at the top of my list for favorite reading, I do enjoy now and then some well thought-out stories with YA characters, those where the narrative does not need love triangles and endless angst to go on. This looks like the perfect exception to my rule, and I will certainly try it out.
    Thank you for a well-defined and informative review! 🙂

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  2. Oh the plot for this sounds just like the Peter Pan storyline in Once Upon A Time – I only recently watched that show and despite some ups and downs, their take on the Peter Pan tale was one of my favorites! So yeah, that plus your awesome review here is making me want to read this one something fierce 😀

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  3. I do like the sound of Peter as the villain for a change. I love Peter Pan stories as well, although I don’t read enough of them. I’ve never given much thought to reading books from SHP, but maybe I should be more open minded:-)

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    • This is actually the second book I’ve read from Spencer Hill (the other one is an adult fantasy novel from their imprint Spence City). In both cases I find the finished product could use a bit more polishing, but because they are a small independent publisher, naturally they won’t have the resources that the big publishing houses have access to so I don’t hold it against that against the books. For both books the idea and story really impressed me, which I think is more important – and I definitely want to keep seeing what SHP comes up with! 🙂

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  4. This sounds fun. I do love the Peter Pan sorry. I read Alias Hook a little while ago which sounds similar to this but geared more to adults. Pan want sweet in that one either. I might need to pick this up. Nice review.

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  5. I have zero problem reading YA, but when it comes to Middle-Garde, I just don’t enjoy that writing. Still definitely like to read this because of Hook being portrayed as the victim.

    You think Hook’s “thinking” never grows up, because he is surround by children and no adult to set an example?

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    • If MG doesn’t work for you, then yeah this might pose some issues for you. The writing does skew younger at times. Though, if you like the idea of Hook as a victim/protagonist, Steph above mentioned “Alias Hook” which might be more to your liking. It sounds like something I would like too, so I’ve already added it to my TBR.

      And I think that makes sense. It’s entirely possibly that his emotional and mental growth is stunted because of having to “grow up” in a place like Neverland, around the Lost Boys who ever age. I like how the book gave you room to speculate.

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  6. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves and Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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