~by Douglas Clegg
The first and, up until now, only book I've read by Douglas Clegg was Isis and that wasn't all that long ago. I enjoyed Isis immensely and planned on picking up some more of the award-winning author's work. Luckily for me, I was offered a copy of Clegg's Neverland for review which I readily accepted and looked forward to reading. Neverland was first published as a mass market paperback in 1991 by Pocket Books. In 2010, Vanguard Press reissued the novel in a lovely trade paperback edition which incorporates a scattering of marvelous illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne, the same artist who lent his skills to the 2009 Isis reissue. I've seen nothing but good things about Neverland and the new release is getting great reviews. Guess it's time to get my word in, too.
Every summer, Beauregard Jackson and his family travel to his maternal grandmother's home on the Georgian coast to spend vacation together. He, his parents, his baby brother, and his twin sisters pack themselves into the car to make the grueling, un-air-conditioned drive to Gull Island to meet up with his aunt, uncle, and their son. Beau more or less gets along with his cousin, but Sumter has always been more aggressive. This year is no different, although Sumter is acting more strangely than usual and has started playing in the old abandoned shed in the woods--the one place they are forbidden to go. Calling it Neverland, the children claim it as their own, a world away from the adults. Beau and his sisters get swept up in Sumter's creation of Neverland, triggering a chain of events that lead to tragedy and the revelation of dark family secrets.
One of the greatest things about Neverland is the ambiguity between what is real and what is simply the overactive imagination of a ten-year-old. Many of the events are probably even more frightening if there isn't anything supernatural going on. And that is what makes Neverland work so well for me. It is creepy and chilling because the kids act like kids, the grown-ups act like grown-ups, and terrible things happen as a result. Other than occasionally being more articulate than I wold normally expect, I think that Clegg captured the attitudes and behaviors of the children quite well, including their inherent distrust of the adults and growing up. I really enjoyed Beau as a narrator and he had a great voice that for the most part felt authentic to me. His interactions with his siblings and cousin, and with his older family members, were believable and real. I really felt for this guy who was forced to come to terms with some very hard truths and responsibilities before he really should have had to.
I've not read much horror fiction yet, so I'm not sure how Neverland compares, but I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. Clegg skillfully maneuvers along a fine line between kids just being kids and something much more sinister, making the storytelling very effective. One example is the children's co-option of fairly common religious language and rituals which comes across as eerie and perverse. I found it easy to identify with Beau and his family, having taken my fair share of vacations in the south. While his family certainly isn't perfect, and there's a fair amount of conflict among its members, they do love each other. There is something very heartfelt about Neverland. Still, the wonderful moments of nostalgia are punctuated by horrific actions and events that are difficult to determine to what extent they are true and how much is just in Beau's head. Either option is terrifying in its own way. The final chapters are intense and I found the epilogue to be very touching and beautiful. I'm glad I got another chance to read and review another of Clegg's books and I still plan on tracking down some more in the future.