I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Written by Brianna Shrum
Published September, 2015 by Greenwillow Books
Provided by: Netgalley
Genres: Fantasy, Re-Tellings
Purchase: The Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia
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James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up.
When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man, James decides he could try being a child—at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children’s dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to be a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up.
But grow up he does. And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate.
This story isn’t about Peter Pan; it’s about the boy whose life he stole. It’s about a man in a world that hates men. It’s about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan. Except one.
I feel quite awful saying that I didn’t enjoy this book all that much. Brianna Shrum clearly KNOWS her Peter Pan lore, adding in elements from the original book and movie incarnations, it’s just that the journey wasn’t all that thrilling to me. For the most part of the book I was left wondering where it was going, and why I didn’t feel connected to the characters as much as I wanted to.
I had heard mixed reviews about this one, but I decided to request it anyway because I am probably one of the biggest Peter Pan geeks around. I have, like many other readers it seems, been waiting, waiting, WAITING for the perfect Pan re-telling or ‘prequel’ and had pinned a few of my hopes on the fact that Never, Never could finally be that one. Sadly, however, I had a few problems with it and am having a really difficult time trying to gather my thoughts and pinpoint WHAT exactly troubles me about it.
Let it be known that I am more of a ‘Pan fan’ than a ‘Hook fan’, so seeing that this book was meant to be Hook’s backstory wasn’t really the angle I was hoping for when praying for my perfect Pan book. However, I decided to push on and pick up this debut novel from Brianna Shrum.
“At twelve years old, James was mostly happy with the state of things, in the way that all twelve year olds are – he had parents who loved him very much, a dog that loved him even more and a pantry that never emptied of sweet things for him to eat.”
The first thing I noticed about this book was that Brianna Shrum takes on the same tone and method of storytelling as the original Peter Pan by JM Barrie. There is a lot of ‘telling’, yes, but I think it works with this particular book (providing you’ve read the original and can recognise the similarities). The second thing I noticed was that I wasn’t a fan of young James Hook.
Hook as a child was incredibly… annoying? I found him to be an incredibly unlikable child, too cynical even at his young age. I did, however, love seeing where he came from and learning about his home life. It was interesting to see that the root of his pirate obsession came from his seafaring father, someone who was always absent.
Things began rubbing me the wrong way again as soon as we met Peter Pan. The meeting between he and James felt rather corny to me. Instead of being swept away as I usually get whenever Peter is introduced, I felt like rolling my eyes a little. Some of the lines felt copied and pasted out of the many books and movies based on Peter, and I found myself predicting what he was going to say before he said them. This continued throughout the book.
So without a magically, entrancing Pan, I kept on reading. It was with further disappointment that the book continued to feel like a middle-grade read. Neverland didn’t much impress me, either. It felt almost lifeless and way too fake. The characters that were introduced there didn’t strike me, either. I found that I didn’t connect to a single one, and that was disheartening.
“Every one of them had long flowing hair of all manner of bizarre colors that looked as though it was painted; it was too beautiful to be real. But, everything in Neverland seemed too something to be real. Too beautiful, too horrible, too fantastic, too savage.”
Once in Neverland, Peter becomes a sort of vengeful pixie with powers that can manipulate the island according to his mood. I give Brianna Shrum a pat on the back here, though, for being the only person who has been able to make me root for Captain Hook over Peter Pan ever. It was quite eerie how quickly my love for Peter turned to unease. I think this feeling would/could have been amplified ten fold if she had written a Peter I had loved in the first few chapters.
A WHOLE LOT OF PLOT HAPPENS then, awfully fast. There’s some more action and even time skips. I feel like I’m getting somewhere in this novel, and then I look at the page number… I’m not even a third of the way through the book yet. What? It was here I started getting a little worried. What else could possibly be going to happen in this book? Where is it heading?
My interest in Never, Never wavered many times. I had to sit myself down and open up my e-reader, putting all distractions aside. It wasn’t an easy or fast read by any means. The book itself is split into three sections, all which climb a weird ladder of appropriate reading age: Part one – middle-grade. Part two – teen? Part three – young adult. I guess I liked it in the sense that we witnessed James growing up, but it was quite jarring to start off as a middle-grade novel and end up seeing this boy we met as a twelve-year old bedding numerous women on a pirate island.
“He took everything from me, Starkey. My family, my home, my childhood, the only woman I ever loved. He took it all, and he feels not an ounce of guilt over it. A child, a heartless child.”
I didn’t quite connect to James at all during Never, Never, but I could understand his frustration throughout the book and was firmly on his side when it came to him vs. Peter. He was a boy/man that had been betrayed, his whole life stolen from him… and that was something tough to read. It did make me think a few times.
When it comes to the romance aspect, it was a bit weird for me. James constantly notices just how ‘unreal’ the pirates he dreamt up all those years ago are, yet he falls in love with the figment of another person’s dream? Tiger Lily herself never felt fully committed to James and their whole relationship just wasn’t believable to me. It felt very out of place with everything else going on, too.
It’s not really until the last 80 or so pages that we experience the Peter Pan story we know and love through James’s eyes. The first hunk of the book is his backstory and him ‘getting-to-the-way-that-he-is’. A lot of the things I would have loved to experience a bit more such as James’s first impressions of the island as well as his relationships with fellow Lost Boys were glossed over. I feel a lot of the ‘downtime’ James had in his cabin could have been cut out all together, because it made the book sluggish.
I really wanted to LOVE this book. Like I said before, it’s clear Brianna Shrum knows her Peter Pan facts and has been able to weave it all together into something that makes sense (I had a few ah! moments, such as when it was explained how the Neverland inhabitants got to the island in the first place) but the bulk of the story itself just wasn’t that interesting to me. She did a great job of painting Pan as the villain, and making me feel just as frustrated as James did when everyone else seemed to love him, but I wish more than anything we had seen that enamouring side to Pan just a bit more to begin with.
Recommended to: If you love Peter Pan as much as I do, no negative review is going to stop you from picking up Never, Never if you really are determined. Even though I didn’t love this book, you might, so why not give it a shot?