I came across Never Never by Brianna Shrum on Twitter and it is the first alternative version of Peter Pan that I’ve actually read so far. I was excited when I first started reading it, this retelling told from the perspective of James Hook, beginning at a young age when he was spirited away to Neverland on what was supposed to have been a short vacation and turned into something entirely different.
In Part One, the reader is introduced to the soon to be 14 year old James Hook, his sea fairing father, and his pregnant mother and his quiet, Eton-bound life in London where he is eager to grow up and go off to school. He sneaks out one night and meets Peter who ultimately convinces Hook to come to Neverland, for what James believes to be a temporary visit, a vacation.
I was a bit enchanted with the description of Neverland, which was delightful and full of strong imagery. I was also first interested in and sympathetic with young Hook’s plight of ultimately being stuck in Neverland when Peter refuses to take him home. This is particularly felt when Pan and his Lost Boys kill for the first time, and expect Hook to take part.
However, it is not long into Part Two that I started to lose interest in the story and any empathy I may have had for Hook in the beginning. The more I read, the more evident it was that the characters lacked depth and the more dramatic, erratic, and…well, whiney, Hook became. Granted, he does not have an easy situation at hand, but he makes one incredibly questionable choice after another making me seriously question how he managed to supposedly get into Eton.
There were a lot of continuity issues, big and small throughout the novel which made it difficult to enjoy or to take very seriously. One of the biggest issues involves islands that magically appear when it’s necessary for the plot. One of the first things a growing/grown up Hook does after claiming the Spanish Main and, supposedly, becoming Captain, though only in title, is to try to sail away from Neverland. His intention is to sail to London, but regardless the scene shows Hook continuously finding himself sailing back towards Neverland with nowhere else to go. The problem arises later in the novel, when it’s necessary and convenient, there is mention of a specific place called Keelhaul Isle, as well as other “never isles” just waiting to be sailed to other than the main Neverland.
Another major continuity issue involves a duel between Hook and Pan where the description in the book sounds violent and gruesome, yet there is no mention of Pan being hurt at all afterwards. One minute the scene reads like Peter Pan is mortally wounded, and by the next page and as the next chapter begins, it’s like nothing at all happened to Peter.
Then there is the relationship between Tiger Lily and Hook that plays out like any high school relationship, and probably has the same life span; setting aside the odd aging and time changes (which has no real explanation and is completely subject to what the Shrum needs to happen to follow her plot), I don’t like any part of their relationship other than one heartwarming scene when Hook first cries in front of a pre-pubescent Tiger Lily.
There were other aspects and choices that I question and could not reconcile as being needed, necessary, or even adding to the story. One such incident involves James Hook meeting his younger brother, Timothy (who is dreaming when he meets/visits James in Neverland), who has also chosen to be a pirate in his dreams. Though I can understand the impulse and desire to include Hook’s younger brother or life in London in some way, the scene has no depth, it’s full of surface information and poor dialogue. By the end of it, I’m really over following Hook’s perspective. Meeting his brother has no real effect on Hook (aside from one superficial sounding line), and doesn’t really seem to be necessary in the grand scheme of the novel.
I wish there had been more to like about this alternative perspective on Neverland and its inhabitants. Neither the story nor the characters kept my attention or captured my heart and I found myself more irritated with them than anything else. The dialogue unfortunately made me cringe at times with the stiffness and the obvious attempt at banter that just feels strained and awkward. I was ready for the end and not surprised at the conclusion; it did nothing to improve the story, in my opinion.
I would have a hard time recommending this to anyone and didn’t particularly enjoy anything after Part One of this novel, which is a shame. There was one point where I vainly hoped that Hook’s eventual erratic and increasingly violent behavior would turn into some interesting reflection about turning into what we hate (i.e. Hook acting like Pan and becoming the next Pan or something), but that was not the case. In the end, the story just wound itself out to the only conclusion it could within the age category it reads for. To each their own, but I’m not a fan.