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Review: Everland

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cover of EverlandEverland presents a dark twist on J.M. Barrie’s tale of lost boys, pirates, and fairies. London is in ruins as a result of German invasion and a deadly disease has left only children alive. The teenage Gwen Darling struggles to keep her younger siblings Joanna and Mikey alive. When Joanna is taken by the Mauraders – the German army led by Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretschmer (aka Hook) – Gwen embarks on a mission to get her back. Along the way she teams up with Pete, the charismatic leader. But with Hook determined to find the child who holds the key to the cure, Gwen may be in more danger than she realizes.

As far as re-tellings of classics go, I’m usually pretty skeptical. After all, why mess with a good thing? So, needless to say when I received an ARC for Everland by Wendy Spinale, I approached it cautiously. Could she really turn a classic children’s story into a steampunk adventure?

Perhaps the biggest challenge in writing a novel like this one is finding the balance between bringing something new to the narrative and staying true to the source material. Spinale succeeds in drawing parallels between old and new and in re-presenting Peter Pan‘s main themes of childhood, growing up, and motherhood. She includes many nods to the original, or perhaps more accurately to Disney’s Peter Pan (I have not read Barrie’s play, so I can only speak to the animated film). These include referring to the second star on the right, crocodiles, mechanical wings, and gold “pixie” dust to name a few. I’m sure that fans of the Disney version of Peter Pan will appreciate this. I had fun with it anyway.

The steampunk elements and plague-ridden setting provide a clear separation between Spinale’s writing and the classic Neverland. There is a greater sense of peril, which adds to meaning to the idea of growing up that the original Peter Pan characters sought to avoid.

While I appreciated this repackaging and perhaps greater delve into the concepts of maturity and responsibility, there are still a few things I wonder if Spinale could have played with to further build upon the original. When I picked the novel up and began reading, I was interested in how it would address some of the less-than-stellar aspects of Peter Pan.

One of the things I was hoping for was a more badass version of Wendy. I don’t have anything against the care-giver figure that Wendy becomes to the Lost Boys, but mothers don’t need be resigned to telling stories and being sweet. Gwen answers that desire fairly well. She struggles with the responsibility she has and I like the exploration of that struggle.

Another thing that kind of irks me about Disney’s Peter Pan is how easily the female characters get jealous. Tinkerbell gets jealous of Wendy, Wendy gets jealous of Tiger Lily – and it’s all based around Peter Pan. Sure he’s fun, but that doesn’t mean girls have to get upset with one another over his attention. I’m just not for the girl vs. girl thing. So I was a bit disappointed that Spinale stuck to it, though I suppose jealousy is a good driver of plot.

I think most would agree that the most troubling thing for modern viewers of Disney’s Peter Pan is the depiction of Indigenous people. Let’s face it, they are shown as an ethnic stereotype, which isn’t good for anyone. And poor Tiger Lily doesn’t even get any real lines! Everland, on the other hand, avoids this particular issue by not including Indigenous characters, but it does include an alternative Tiger Lily. This alternative is Lily, a girl who comes to Gwen and the Lost Boy’s aid during their journey through Everland. Neither Lily’s ethnicity nor nationality is directly stated in the novel, but she is described as having raven hair, bronze skin, and dark eyes. She also wears a sari and has a bindi. From this, I interpret her as an Indian character. But of course, by making that assumption, I am drawing on a stereotypical image myself. So this character does give me a bit of a pause, partially because I’m not sure about the non-inclusion of Indigenous characters and partially because I don’t know what to think about her new depiction. 

One thing I do like about Lily is that she has more agency that the original Tiger Lily. Where Tiger Lily is largely acted upon (getting kidnapped and rescued) rather than acting herself, Lily gets to be a bit badass. While she may not have as much book-time (that’s the equivalent of screen-time, right?) as the other characters, she has a position of responsibility and gets to wield a sword while trying to save children. So I’d say that’s an improvement.

While I did enjoy reading this novel and I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I made my way through it, I can’t say it has entirely sold me on the genre. Aside from the few things I’ve pointed out, I feel the novel does a fairly good job retelling a classic. However, I’m not sure if my enjoyment of it came from the story itself so much as from finding the bits and pieces that harked back to a part of my childhood and part of a larger literary legacy. Such is the downside of this type of fiction, I suppose.

Final verdict: Everland is a fun twist on Peter Pan and the steampunk and post-catastrophe/dystopia genres for fans of Peter Pan who enjoy spotting allusions.

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