A Magical (and Freaky) place – “Neverland” by Douglas Clegg
If you took the innocence of the southern children of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and mixed in Macauley Culkin’s little monster of a character from “The Good Son,” then stir in a hefty dose of dysfunctional families, then topped that all off with a heavy frosting of hallucinatory visions and a sprinkling of cruelty to small creatures, you’d have a pretty good idea of what Douglas Clegg’s “Neverland” is like.
Which is not to say it’s bad, just that there’s a lot going on.
For our hero Beau, summers equal one thing: boring family getaways to Gull Island. His family is joined by his Aunt and Uncle, and off the whole gang goes to the island (which is really a peninsula) to an old house where their grandmother lives.
Beau’s options for fun are limited. His parents, along with his aunt and uncle, fight all the time. His Grandmother is wacky and completing her memoirs. His little brother is an infant, and his two sisters are preteens and uninteresting to him. There’s also an islander hired to nanny for the children, who simply rather not be there. His only real option for a summer friend is his cousin Sumter, a strange boy who dresses immaculately, is far too attached to a teddy bear, and seems to rub everyone the wrong way.
Things become interesting when Beau follows Sumter out to a shed in the woods – which Sumter calls “Neverland.” There, Sumter is hiding something dangerous – and her name is Lucy. From there, things get gory and twisted and all kinds of deadly. Animals get tortured, things are stolen, visions are had, secrets are told, and blood is spilled.
Everything builds and builds to a climax that is a little disappointing. After sticking by Beau’s side through the entire story, the ending realization (though cool) isn’t really all that mind-blowing. It’s certainly not a new device in literature.
Truly, that would be my only real complaint about the book. (Though I could have used a little less of the fighting parents. We get it. The relationship between your two sets of parents is intense. Noted. Move on.)
Certain passages are beautifully written, and there are really neat things happening within these pages. For example, I found the entire character of Zinnia to be fascinating, and wish there had been more of her. (Granted, having completed the book, I now see why there couldn’t be, but nonetheless.) Beau is an effective narrator, as he’s never painted too broadly as the “good” kid. He messes up, he breaks things, he has a temper – he’s a real kid. Which helps the audience relate more to him than if he was some saintly schoolboy.
There’s a lot going on beneath the surface of this book about youth and innocence versus grown-ups and guilt, but the key point here is that at the end of the day, evil knows no age range.
The imaginations of children are powerful things.
They can even turn an abandoned shed into “Neverland.”
Check out the book trailer: