YA Weekend: Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Simon Pulse (February 2, 2016)
Length: 342 pages
Once again I was unable to resist the temptation of a book inspired by Peter Pan. It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction at this point, whether it turns out for good or for ill. I have to say though, I had high hopes for Lisa Maxwell’s Unhooked when I first heard about it, with its blurb that hinted at such a different and unique vision. Because it offered such a cool new twist on Neverland unlike anything I’d seen before, I’d hoped this would mean something more than just another retelling, but in the end I was disappointed. This book could have gone in new directions, with virtually thousands of possibilities to explore, but all that potential was ultimately misspent on flat characters and superficial relationships.
What’s worse is that the beginning of this novel showed so much promise. Seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn Allister has just arrived in London with her mother, a rather unstable woman who believes monsters are after her and her daughter. The two of them have bounced around the globe, never settling down in one place for long, but at least this time, Gwendolyn has her best friend Olivia along for moral support.
However, that first night in their dingy new flat, the two teens are kidnapped by shadowy creatures and are whisked off to a strange new land. Gwen, separated from Olivia, discovers that this place is called Neverland, like in the storybooks. But to her dismay, everything she thought she knew about those tales is a lie. The dashing pirate captain who claims to have rescued her is nothing like the Captain Hook she pictured in her mind, and the horrible things she hears about Peter Pan makes the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up sound more like the villain than a hero. The fairies are also nothing like Tinkerbell, but are actually frightening beings out of nightmare called the Dark Ones. Suddenly, Gwen’s mother doesn’t sound so crazy anymore. And worst of all, the longer Gwen stays in Neverland, the more her memories start to slip away. If she can’t figure out a way to find Olivia and escape this world, she might not even remember the home she comes from.
The best thing about Unhooked is the idea that the Captain and Pan are simply agents caught on opposite sides of a much bigger conflict—the one fought between the Dark Ones. The scary fairies are the ones playing both sides in order to get what they want, and what they want is Gwen because there is an important secret about her, something that she has no idea about. But therein also lies one of the biggest problems I had with this book. Simply put, Gwen’s ignorance makes her a helpless victim for much of the story, unable to exert any control over her fate like a leaf blown on the wind. I can’t even blame her for most of the disastrous decisions she makes, because what could she have done differently, being kept in the dark? Literally, the first thing the Captain does is to shut Gwen up in a room without deigning to explain anything. For her own good, probably. Even frightened and confused though, Gwen’s response to this mistreatment is the first stirrings of attraction for this intimidating stranger with a bionic arm who has locked her up for days and refused to answer any of her perfectly reasonable questions. When your instalove looks a lot like Stockholm syndrome, no thank you.
The real slap in the face though, was the unfortunate way Gwen and Olivia’s relationship played out. I love seeing strong, supportive female friendships in YA, and my spirits were lifted by Liv’s kindness and loyalty to Gwen at the beginning at the novel when our protagonist needed it the most. It really broke my heart to see a boy get between them in Neverland, even if the rift was caused by said boy’s special magic; I just wished we could have seen more of the two girls working together, especially since I found the story behind their friendship so intriguing. I was really bummed by the end of the book and thought Liv’s role was rather wasted.
All told, I was never truly able feel connected to Gwen and her relationships because I felt so little depth in her and the other characters. The Captain was probably the best written out of all of them and mostly because he had the advantage of a mini-backstory you could piece together at the beginning of each chapter, but the rest of the characters are very two-dimensional. The story also left me cold. This tale of Peter Pan and Neverland could have been so different and special, but it didn’t quite capture my imagination even with some of the very neat ideas in here, which I wish had been better executed. To be honest, Unhooked wasn’t all bad, but with so many retellings out there, it simply didn’t stand out as much as it could have, and these days I just can’t help being pickier.