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.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press (9/22/15)
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.