Author: Brianna R. Shrum
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Publishing Date: September 22, 2015
Pages/Format: 368, ARC
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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.
Book in One Word: HOOKed.
Peter Pan retellings, at least the ones I've read, tend to be twisty little creatures. I still haven't read the original tale (for shame), but I've seen some movies and read some books, and I've noticed a few things. Every Peter Pan retelling has its own little twist on the tale but still keeps to the original beloved story while creating something that's wholly its own. Tiger Lily introduced us to the girl with the feather in her hair we knew nothing about, but who was in love with the boy with the feather in his cap, and who made us--or me, at least--hate Wendy Darling's guts. And Hook's Revenge repainted the lush setting of the ultimate-destination Neverland while creating a brand new character who fit perfectly into the island's story. Another thing these stories do is constantly sway what you think about every character in Peter Pan's imaginative world. In Never Never, Brianna R. Shrum tells the tale of Neverland's most infamous character (well, depending on how you feel about crocodiles): Captain Hook. I was telling my mom a little bit about Never Never, and she said, "But Captain Hook's bad." I thought so too. But then I read this book. So I told-slash-whined to her: "You just don't understand him."
Have you ever wondered why Hook was so hellbent on killing Peter Pan, why a man so desperately wanted to murder a boy? Shrum attempts to answer--or show--that question in Never Never. Prepare to sympathize with the villain--but is Hook the villain? Here's the story of James Hook, a boy who, unlike another boy we know, actually wants to grow up. But then he meets Peter Pan--a boy who can fly--who offers to take James to Neverland for a little vacation, and also promises to bring him home. Except Peter Pan decides to make James one of his Lost Boys, and the boy who wanted to grow up is forced to stay in a place where boys don't grow up. But James Hook does grow up. (As well all know.) And he breaks one of Peter Pan's cardinal rules by doing so. So he heads off to the Spanish Main, a pirate ship he dreamed about back in London, but that's real in Neverland. And the war begins.
The above is literally nothing. I mean, obviously I can't tell you what happens in Never Never, because then I'd be walking the plank for spoiling things. But this book is kind of genius. I mean, there are so many things that are so similar to the Peter Pan tale I know (I'm using the Disney animated film as my main reference point, but I do see similarities to other versions), but we see them from a completely different angle and it paints the story a completely different way. I'll tell you what: Peter Pan is a little shit. But that's how he is. The world in Never Never exists however Peter wants it, because he created it. Hook gets mad because everything on the damn island is created to love Peter, and there's a question raised--if Peter Pan died, what would happen to Neverland and its inhabitants? The idea may seem complicated, but it never read like that, and really, it was interesting: this entire dreamland is controlled by a crowing boy's imaginary puppeteer strings. In most Peter Pan reimaginings, I'm all for Peter. I want him to win. And we all do, don't we? He's Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up. We want him to defeat that old codfish. But in Never Never? You're rooting for the codfish.
Going into Never Never, I thought it might be a Middle Grade novel, and I wasn't sure what to expect, but it most certainly is not Middle Grade (for a number of reasons). And as for what I expected...gosh, I don't even know. I didn't expect to be so invested in what would happen to one of the world's most infamous pirates and villains. And the writing--it felt like storytelling, and like I could hear a narrator in my head. It would make an excellent audiobook. (I can hear it in my head with a British narrator and yesss.) I don't think I expected to do much more than like this book, but I did--I really, really liked it. Just thinking about Never Never makes me teary, so actually, I loved it. We see Hook as he grows up and transforms from boy to man, and while there are some abrupt jumps in time, it didn't feel jarring. Shrum's writing kept the transitions smooth, and going from young James Hook to Captain Hook was almost unnoticeable, because the subtle change in voice was transitioned so well. The writing really helped to make this story and bring it to life. I'm definitely a fan.
There's another aspect of this book I didn't really expect, and that's the romance. It kind of broke me. Spoiler alert, but if you've read or seen anything to do with Peter Pan, you know that any romance with Captain Hook is bound to be doomed (especially because he's the bad guy, and bad guys don't usually get happy endings). But maybe it won't be; maybe the bad guy will get a little something good out of this life. So you can't help but ship the absolute hell out of Hook and Tiger Lily, and you prepare yourself to go down with that ship if you must. It was just so--wait! I CAN SHOW YOU:
In other words, there are more than just pirate ships in this book, and you feel passionate about them. But let's talk about Captain James Hook. I've really only seen glimpses of Captain Hook in Hook's Revenge and Second Star, but never like this. A la Maleficent, Never Never shows us what's really underneath that bravado and hook. Captain Hook was raised with manners, and he speaks with eloquence, and he tries to deal with being stuck in Neverland....but everything always goes back to that blasted pirate-murdering, weather-controlling Pan. Whether he likes it or not, Hook's entire, well, everything pivots around the point that is Peter Pan. Peter brought him there, and he's the only one who can bring him back. He controls Neverland, and therefore, he basically controls Hook. How can Hook best the boy who has the strength of an entire land? Especially a boy who wants him dead? For Hook, there's only one thing he can do to the person who took him away from his life and ruined everything: Kill him. If' it's the last thing he does.
Never Never is unique in the way that it sticks so well to the Peter Pan tale we all know so well, but shows it through an angle that creates a whole new swashbuckling tale. If I had to give one bit of critique for this book, is that it felt...long? I mean, reading it was mostly fine, but it felt like it took forever to get anywhere near page 200. I found it hard, until a certain point, to read more than a few chapters at at time, even though I was definitely liking it. I think this is a book that's not meant to be devoured in a day--it's one to be taken in slowly so you can better savor it and really grasp Hook's story.
I heart this book. I want to snuggle it and hold it close to me and just tell it how precious it is, and maybe pet it, too. You won't have asked for a boatload of feels, but in Never Never, you're getting them anyway. Everything is a slowburn. All the emotions build up like a wave with Hook's character development, reaching for the climax. When it comes to Neverland, James Hook is always the exception. Prepare to root for the villain (or who seems to be the villain, perhaps), ship a romance SO HARD, and possibly cry. Pirates do, after all, have feelings. And they're not all bad. You just have to get to know them first, for you can't judge a person by their hook.
Did I like it? Yesss.
Did I love it? Yes!
Would I reread it? Likely.
Would I purchase it? I have this baby preordered.
Who would I recommend it to? I'd recommend this to everyone, but Peter Pan fans especially, I think--it's the tale we know and love so well, and yet, it isn't.