Neverland took me by surprise. I asked for this book last Christmas and only just popped it to the top of my TBR pile. I decided not to re-read the blurb and just jumped straight in, eager to see what hid beneath the glossy shiny cover. It was not at all what I was expecting but I absolutely loved it.
It’s a great mix of light fantasy and contemporary fiction. I was expecting a heavy-handed retelling of Peter Pan, layered with tropes, thinly-veiled references and the not-so-surprising ‘surprise twist’ that many retellings fall into. Boy, was I wrong. Not only had I completely misremembered the blurb but I had forgotten why I asked for this book in the first place. I was wowed, then, when this book turned out to be thoroughly enthralling and wonderful to read. I was entirely wrong about the contents and found a fresh and exciting plot, not to mention, engaging characters, thought-provoking relationships and brilliant fantasy references.
The Peter Pan references were re-worked marvellously. Rather than relying on the original work and tweaking it slightly, McGovern handpicked the best references and completely flipped them on their head. They were still recognisable as Peter Pan allusions, but they were completely different to Barrie’s version. This gave a whole new meaning to the images and I found myself searching for clues about what else McGovern may have hidden in her book. I’m sure there were some hidden secrets that I missed, treasure waiting to be found next time I read it.
‘McGovern handpicked the best references and completely flipped them on their head.’
I enjoyed that McGovern was selective in her re-working and had clear ideas about what each piece would represent and how they would work independent of Barrie’s original. I can see how a similar story could have been structured around a more direct Peter Pan retelling and I don’t think it would have been as powerful or enjoyable.
Something that surprised me about the Peter Pan allusions is that I couldn’t tell what came first, the idea to use them or the overall idea for the book. It didn’t feel like the book was built around the references, nor were they on the outskirts of the text. The book and these details were wrapped together to make a perfectly balanced whole. I would be very interested to read early drafts to see what developed first and how.
‘McGovern’s story felt fresh and interesting.’
While pairing light fantasy with mental illness may not be perfectly original, McGovern’s story felt fresh and interesting. Maybe it’s the way she transformed the Peter Pan references or maybe it’s the way they worked with Kit’s character development, but this book didn’t feel derivative at all. I enjoyed the partnership between storytelling, trauma and identity. McGovern allows Kit to use storytelling as a way of exploring her issues, adding layers, complexity and a hint of mystery to Kit’s backstory and development. This works wonderfully with the themes, but also integrates the fantasy elements smoothly into the narrative.
I also enjoyed the parallels between Kit’s emotional journey and her physical sailing adventures. The water and sailing are integral parts of this book and the pirates, mermaids and selkies are excellent additions to the story. I won’t spoil it, but each of the sailing adventures brought something new to the story and added serious pace to the plot.
If you lean more towards contemporary fiction over fantasy, this book is still worth adding to your list. Despite the fantasy elements, Neverland is still clearly set in our contemporary world and handles familiar issues. I won’t spoil the ending, but I did like the character development and Kit’s character arc. There were a few times where it felt a little repetitive but this was just a paragraph here and there so didn’t feel overboard or frustrating.
‘If you lean more towards contemporary fiction over fantasy, this book is still worth adding to your list.’
McGovern also explores a variety of relationships in Neverland, encouraging the reader to analyse the behaviours and engage with the characters. Not all romantic, these relationships explore growing up, vulnerability and so much more. Again, to avoid spoilers I won’t go into much detail, but these relationships were as intrinsic to the story as the fantasy elements and really glue the plot together. Each of the final scenes between Kit and the other characters was exactly what I wanted. They felt true to each character and authentic to the book and the world. As I said, if you’re a fan of contemporary fiction, this is still a great book for you too!
McGovern has nailed Kit’s voice. Through all of Kit’s emotional turmoil and the up’s and down’s of the plot, McGovern keeps Kit’s voice so perfect that you barely even think about it, a sign of how well crafted it is. The fact that it didn’t jar or disrupt any of the scenes across the entire book shows how in tune with this voice McGovern was. After a few chapters, I had expected that I would begin to find Kit’s voice tiresome or melodramatic but that was not the case. McGovern seems to exercise great caution and craft in ensuring that Kit remains relatable and empathetic, even when she is clearly behaving in unhealthy and unlikable ways. Kit’s voice is one of the greatest strengths of this book and makes the plot and other characters all the more enjoyable.
Fingers crossed you enjoy it as much as I did!
Author: Margot McGovern
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Extent: 317 pp.
Read If You Like: It’s Kind Of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Sea Hearts by Margot Lanagan