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Published by: Puffin, 5th Jan 2023
Revisiting a childhood favourite is always a bit of a gamble: will it live up to expectation or will it not? This is exactly how I felt when I opened the first page of Saving Neverland by Abi Elphinstone as Peter Pan, created by J.M Barrie, is one of my favourite children's classics in terms of both setting and characters.
I needn't have worried, though. Saving Neverland, which has echoes of the original but is injected with Abi Elphinstone's incredible imagination and evocative writing, is a delight from start to finish. Magical yet menacing, it is a race against time to save everything the Neverlanders hold dear and a chance for Martha to rescue her beloved brother, whilst re-embracing her own childhood.
After a terrible incident on a terrible day, ten year old Martha Pennydrop has turned her back on childhood. But when Peter Pan turns up at 14, Darlington Road, urgently needing help to break Hook's icy curse over Neverland, Martha and her little brother Scruff find themselves launched into an epic adventure involving fairies, frostbears and ghostly pirates, including the legendary Captain James Hook himself. Is Martha the only one who can help Peter Pan save Neverland and can she avoid another 'terrible day'?
This is something really special. Not only has Abi Elphinstone handled an old-school classic with the utmost care, she has reinvented it with the golden touch of a genius writer. All the ingredients which make Neverland a memorable setting are there: the lost children, the dens, the burrows, the mermaid lagoons and the threat of terrible pirates, all wrapped up in a brand new quest of ice, snow, sweetshops, woolly mammoths and, of course, battles. For young readers, this makes the world of Peter Pan newly accessible, creating a fan base across a new generation and keeping the classic alive. I particularly loved the scene with the sharks, Martha's frank exchange with Peter in the ice cave and the sinister appearance of the ghostly pirates at the end of the novel.
The real heartstring draw under the adventure, however, is the sibling bond between Martha and Scruff. Scruff's asthma adds another very real threat to the high-stakes adventure while Peter's lack of family only adds to the emotion. Abi Elphinstone also brings strong and delicious depictions of food to the novel, definitely adding to the enticing nature of the island. The story was truly enchanting from start to finish and coated my Christmas in fairy dust.
A big thanks to NetGalley and Puffin for allowing me a review copy. Saving Neverland is released in the UK on 5th January 2023.