Title: The Neverland Wars
Author: Audrey Greathouse
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
Release Date: May 2016
Length: 302 pages
Series?: The Neverland Wars #1
Genre: Fairy Tale, Retelling, Fantasy, YA
Magic can do a lot—give you flight, show you mermaids, help you taste the stars, and… solve the budget crisis? That’s what the grown-ups will do with it if they ever make it to Neverland to steal its magic and bring their children home.
However, Gwen doesn’t know this. She’s just a sixteen-year-old girl with a place on the debate team and a powerful crush on Jay, the soon-to-be homecoming king. She doesn’t know her little sister could actually run away with Peter Pan, or that she might have to chase after her to bring her home safe. Gwen will find out though—and when she does, she’ll discover she’s in the middle of a looming war between Neverland and reality.
She’ll be out of place as a teenager in Neverland, but she won’t be the only one. Peter Pan’s constant treks back to the mainland have slowly aged him into adolescence as well. Soon, Gwen will have to decide whether she’s going to join impish, playful Peter in his fight for eternal youth… or if she’s going to scramble back to reality in time for the homecoming dance.
This fairy tale retelling retains many of the classic elements of the original Peter Pan, but as this is a coming-of-age story told from Gwen’s POV and set in today’s modern world of technology, it has some variations and twists to the relationship of Peter with the outside world.
In this version, Gwen is a 16 year-old teen worried about trivialities like homecoming when her younger sister, Rose, goes missing. A special police force investigates and determines that none other than Peter Pan could be behind Rose’s disappearance.
The following night, Peter and Rose return to convince Gwen to traverse to Neverland because she is such a good storyteller. While Gwen faces the dilemma of staying with her parents and going with her sister, she ultimately goes with the intention of returning in a week with Rose.
Gwen – AKA The Wendy, 16 year old struggling with growing up
Rose – Gwen’s younger sister, she receives more attention from their parents
Peter – he is much the same as in the original, only slightly older
Hollyhock – AKA Tinkerbell minus the jealous
Bramble – a fairy prone to gorging on food
Dillweed – a fairy prone to drink
Bard – the oldest girl, very motherly
Cynara – the brunette mermaid
Eglantine – the red-headed mermaid
Lasiandra – the blonde mermaid
There was the inescapable sense that she was being forced in a direction she did not want to go. It was not that the transition into adulthood was hard because it was a transition, but rather because it was hurtling her toward something unpleasant and irreversible.
The Highs and Lows
First, I’ve never read Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. I have seen Disney’s Peter Pan (1953) and the live-action 1960 version starring Mary Martin, as well as Hooked.
- Similarities. There are several elements that remain synonymous from the original telling. There are still mermaids, Indians, pirates, the crocodile, the Lost Boys, “I believe,” the shadow, and the fairy. The concept of coming-of-age and struggling to straddle the odd and difficult time of being a teen, stuck between wanting to remain a child and being forced into becoming an adult, is very present.
- Peter. In this retelling, Peter is older due to all the trips back and forth from Neverland. Age has caught up with Peter, which was not accounted for in the original. It’s not quite clear exactly how old he is, but he is at least fourteen. He appears to be closer to Gwen’s age.
- The original was set in the mid-1950s (ish) with quite a focus on decorum and expectations (for Wendy, mostly) from the parents. This retelling is set in the modern-day technology-fueled world and while Gwen does have some heat from her mother, it is not comparable.
- While in the original there was Tinker Bell, in this retelling there are several fairies. Peter’s near constant companion is Hollyhock, although she does not exhibit the jealous aspects as her original counterpart. Instead, she is just a rather curious fairy. Another important fairy to the story was Dillweed.
- While the pirates were not actual characters, they existed in a story retold while Gwen was in Neverland. There was no particular character that correlated to Hook. This aspect of the original was very glossed over and generalized, and only existed to show how unreliable Peter is in that he changes the reality of his stories with each telling, as children are wont to do.
- There are only three mermaids, and they are as conniving and vicious as they seemed before, except there were some discrepancies. Peter tells Gwen to never get too close to them, but also that they cannot tell a lie. Anything they says is the truth. Peter seeks them out because they know things. Lasiandra sort of befriends Gwen in a frenemy way.
- Gwen is the reproduction of Wendy, in today’s time. She is slightly older than previously portrayed, and thus she exudes more common sense and introspective thought on the entire matter of remaining in Neverland versus returning. She is also able to understand the difference between staying in Neverland for herself and staying for Rose, and allows Rose to make the choice for herself. One important aspect to point out is that Gwen isn’t brought to Neverland to be the Lost Boys’s mother – they already have one.
- Bard exhibits as the Lost Boys’s mother. She has been in Neverland quite a time, and is very good at realizing the needs of the children. When Gwen first arrives, Bard takes care of her.
- The Lost Boys are not only boys! They are a mix of girls and boys of all ages, who have been in Neverland a varying amount of time. Unlike in the original where the Boys were easily escalated to bickering, antics, and shenanigans, in this version the group was more cohesive and meshed well. They got along and supported and helped one another. While their personalities seemed to meld and blend together in the original, each of the Boys had a distinctive story and personality in the retelling – and they are hilarious!
- Second star to the right is only one way of getting to Neverland, and Peter explains to Wendy that they cannot go that route because “they” are watching. It’s like the front door to Neverland, and they have to go in the secret back way.
- The Twist. The strange “police” force that shows up after Rose’s disappearance prompts Gwen’s father to have a sit-down with her to explain some things, like why it was ingrained in her to always keep her bedroom windows closed. The world is run on magic, and of course only adults are conscientious enough to know how to use magic wisely. It is a secret kept from the children of the world and hoarded by particular groups. While Gwen thought her father was like a CPA, his job is drastically different. This moment in the book reminded me of when Harry and Ron learn the truth behind Mr. Weasley’s job at the Ministry of Magic. But there’s more: all of the innovations of the world have been powered by magic, until the world could catch up to the technology (usually about a 20 year delay). It was unclear, but there seemed to be a limited supply of magic, so it is very important for the world to catch up and lessen their use of magic.
- Neverland. While Neverland is the primary setting of the book, I’d say for 90% of it, we don’t see very much of it. It is as standard as the island depiction in the Disney cartoon movie. I was hoping for more development of the island, more depth to explore in this retelling.
- The Plot. The plot was weak. It didn’t seem to hold a lot of depth, complexity, or real progress. The story was not plot-driven, despite having action vignettes. In fact, it was hard for me to tell where the plot was really going. At the end I could see bits and pieces and kind of start putting things together with what I’ll explain below, but it was really difficult because there wasn’t much given to us as readers.
- The War. The entire concept of the use of magic in the world is sort of explained to Gwen, but not where it originates from, which I am assuming is Neverland (although I don’t know how) BECAUSE Peter is forced into protecting Neverland from attacks. It’s not really explained how magic works in Neverland and in the world. Neverland had suffered an extensive attack before, and another serious one while Gwen is there. There isn’t much explanation about the war, how or why it started. It’s just an afterthought in the background. I believe this will come into full effect in the second book for a couple of reasons, but we aren’t given much to go on, and the lack of clarity makes it a little confusing and dilutes the enjoyment of being in Neverland. If this element of the plot was fully developed, I think it would have made the pacing of the book (and an actual plot) move along quickly with more action and less stories.
- The Villain. In the classic, Captain Hook is the villain. He is constantly ragging on Peter, but not in this version. Instead, the adults of the world are the villains. The entire adult machination with magic adds a different perspective. Given the parallelism between innocence and growing up, this fits perfectly into that framework. When Rose disappears, there is talk about her being “stolen” by Peter.
- Gwen. While this is a coming-of-age story, I didn’t expect Gwen’s character to have such character growth. She is truly struggling with retaining the innocence of childhood (in a technology-driven world) when she is of the age with adults forcing adult-like expectations on her. While she is trying to discern the right thing for her, as well as Rose, ultimately she realizes she cannot make the decision for Rose to return.
- Peter. His character was woe-fully underdeveloped. With as character-driven as this retelling was, the focus was solely on Gwen. The perfect placement for progressing the plot and the entire notion of the war would have been through Peter’s character: how did he come to be in Neverland (was he born there? brought there? by whom?). While Peter was whimsical and anti-adult, for a retelling with a plot that bodes of such complexity, he was underdeveloped and fell flat.
- The Foil. Gwen and Peter are relatively the same age, but they act, process, and perceive things in such different ways. Wendy is already on the tail-end of childhood, on the very brink of being an adult, while Peter acts as a foil to her character and he is unaffected and puerile.
- The Shadow. At the end of the book Gwen is at a party. A pivotal moment happens and I thought it would end on a cliffhanger with Gwen and company running from the “police,” but something else happens involving a shadow and an attack. It is ambiguous as to where Peter and Gwen go, as well as the identity of the shadow. Who is the shadow? Who is he working with? Why does he attack? Does Peter know the shadow? Why hasn’t it appeared or been spoken of before? The Shadow just leaves more questions than answers, lending heavily to the fact that the book did not have a resolution. I understand that Greathouse is planning on this being a trilogy, so this unsettling cliffhanger can flow straight into the second book, which I hope will do a better job of shedding light on these Neverland Wars and the magic within them.
- Oddities. There were some very out-of-place, or rather disconnected, pieces to the story that just seemed there for no reason, like Gwen’s budding relationship with Lasiandra the mermaid, and the underwater journey she takes Gwen on. And what she says to Gwen! What does that even mean?! Gwen told a random story about eating a star, and later Peter actually had her eat a star…and it didn’t have any meaning or proufoundness to it. What was the point? Usless words that slowed the plot down and made me disinterested. The story of the pirates? Was there a point to it? Something Peter learned that he’ll need to know for the future? The story of the two Indians? There was a lot of nonsensical thrown in that made the story go all over the place for no reason, and really disconnected me from the story.
I wish there had been more development overall – and particularly to the plot. It seemed almost like this was a gently revised first draft without the crucial use of a developmental editor. I felt the real story wanting to be told suffered and struggled to shine through, but I am nonetheless looking forward to the next book and to see what happens.
Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip?
Borrow. At first I had planned on using one of my giveaway winnings to buy this book, but the blogger suggested I not, and I’m glad for it. This isn’t one I would plan on keeping around on my shelves, or for a re-read.
After dropping out of her university and beginning training as a circus performer on the aerial silks, she returned to school to study at Southern New Hampshire University College of Online and Continuing Education to earn her B.A. in English Language and Literature, with a minor in Computer Information Technologies.
Audrey Greathouse is a die-hard punk cabaret fan, and pianist of fourteen years. She’s usually somewhere along the west coast, and she is always writing.