Thursday, February 11, 2010

Never After by Dan Elconin

First published in October, 2009.

Leaving everything behind for the Island was Ricky's dream come true. When his happily ever after is not quite what it seems, he discovers that running away means running toward bigger problems.

Trapped on the Island, Ricky must join together with the only people he can trust to help him face his fears and return home. But the only way off the Island is to confront the person who trapped Ricky and his friends in the first place. With countless enemies and true peril staring them down, Ricky's mission to leave this co-called paradise will become a battle for their very lives. (book back blurb)

When Dan first contacted me about reviewing his book, I had to do a little research because I'd never heard of it. A re-telling of Peter Pan, you say? With penis jokes? Since apparently I'm a fourteen-year-old boy on the inside, I couldn't resist. Dan started writing this book when he was fourteen and got it published when he was 19. It's his debut.

First I want to say that it's an excellent and imaginative re-telling. It just totally bastardizes the whole fantasy of Peter Pan to something that's much more horrific than what Disney is willing to tell you. Paradise is equivalent to a lobotomy and the Lost Boys (and Girls) are nowhere near as friendly as they were originally. There's still a giant crocodile (alligator?) that's after Hooke but Hooke isn't a gnarly old man with a vendetta against a teenage boy. He's only a few years younger than I am (although he looks rather worn) but he's still got that vendetta. And for good reason.

The story, from a panoramic view, is pretty damn good. Dan took a familiar story and turned it on its head to appeal to a broader audience that may not like the sappy drama of the original Peter Pan and his Lost Boys. "Wendy"'s a rancid bitch, but for good reason and the "brothers" fight like a married couple. Total update and totally good. And the jokes had be snickering. Not sure what that says about me but there you go. There were snorts.

The issue that I had with it, though, was the writing. I just don't think it's quite "there" yet. Obviously someone felt it was good enough to get published but I'm more inclined to say it was geared towards the story more than the style itself. Personally, none of the writing flaws are fatal and all that I saw are things that can easily be worked out of the writing the more Dan writes.

Basically, many of the flaws I found were more novice flaws. Big of me to say since I don't have a book published (yet) but, in my more seasoned eye (read: as someone that's already wrote my way through college and freelance editing and so on) this is much more juvenile writing with more juvenile mistakes.

The insistence of time was a MAJOR issue for me. Either Ricky had an insane reference for time or he's OCD and counted constantly. It almost felt like Dan didn't know how else to move time forward than to tell how many seconds or minutes or hours passed from one event to the next. It really rubbed me raw right at the beginning when they were crawling through a pitch black cave and Ricky still had a sense of time. Marines in sensory deprivation lose their sense of time but I guess Ricky pwns them.

Another major issue was the insistence of space. Ricky always seemed to know how far away something was, how high a ceiling was. Lateral space was his game. Tape measures for eyeballs, I tell you. There wasn't much imagination in the use of either space or time. Instead of running until his muscles lit on fire, Ricky ran for 12 minutes and about 3 miles. Like I said, the kid either had an insane sense of time and space or was severely OCD.

Another issue was Ricky "seemed" a lot. Everything seemed to be this way or that. The thing with "seemed" is that if used too much, it weakens the writing. I don't want to know what something seemed like. Tell me how it was. You're living it. It was like rubbing sand in your eyes instead of it seemed painful to look at. Removing "seemed" or any of its variations gives the reader a much more immediate reaction and feeling to the writing and makes the characters stronger. Ricky won't seem like an indecisive schmo if he was more definitive in his assertions.

There was also much more telling than there was showing and Dan didn't leave much to the reader's imagination when explaining a lot of things. Everything was always so precise that it felt like I was getting information dictated to me instead of being allowed to imagine what it was all like. That's a mistake a lot of young writers (and many older ones, for that matter) make because they have such specific ideas for their works and they want to make sure the reader gets it exactly right. Thing is, allowing the reader the freedom to picture what their reading makes for a more enjoyable read. Otherwise it's like reading directions from Mapquest.

Voice was another thing. Dan has an excellent knack for writing a teenage boy (if he didn't, we'd have issues) and he has a wonderful way with words that many writers would be jealous of. Unfortunately, from what I saw, he tried to balance the two so in dialogue we have some great teenage boy voice but in first person POV exposition, it's a much more intelligent, highfalutin voice that doesn't match the character. I can understand why he'd want to demonstrate the two (shit, if I wrote like that, I'd want to too) but it made reading a little difficult, as if Ricky was a little schizophrenic. When writing in the voice of a character, it needs to stay in character, in or out of voice. I had the same issue with Maggie Stiefvater's work. I felt the exposition of the inner dialogue didn't match what was coming out of the characters' mouths. Same issue here (but much less masturbatory and much more natural). It's hard to do. It's an issue I struggle with. As much as I want to write in my "default" voice, if it doesn't match the character, I can't. With time I think Dan will be able to balance this out much better.

Now that the critique is over, I can say the story was definitely good and I can see from Dan's writing that he has absolutely amazing potential. He's young and he has some kinks to work out of his writing. None of the issues I named are fatal and all can be easily removed with more writing, more editing, more critique groups. I wish I had the talent at 19 than Dan does. If he keeps working at it, keeps writing, he'll hone his craft to such a fine-tuned violin that people will be drooling over his work. I feel confident that he'll only get better from here.

But in the meantime, I'd recommend this one simply for the plot. It's a great re-telling, very imaginative and has zombies. Peter Pan and zombies. Bet you never thought of that one, did you?


April said...

I admire your honesty. I think it's cool that you can be constructively critical. Even after the negatives, I still want to check this book out, because zombies and Peter Pan sounds fab!

Lea said...

I love the honest review! It still sounds pretty good, despite the newbie writing mistakes. :D

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, constructive criticism....


The Never Fairy said...

Somehow making a sophomoric version of Peter Pan doesn't sit right with me. It's like tainting the Mona Lisa with an arrow through the head and lipstick.

Here's another Peter Pan related book - it's based on Barrie's own idea for more adventure... click here !


Donna said...

I mean it's a good story. The writing's just a little rough around the edges.

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