Summers are a nightmare for Beau Jackson. August always sees his family packing up the car for the drive from Virginia to Georgia, where the 10-year-old boy spends a miserable two weeks with his sisters, his cousin, their respective parents, and his venerable grandmother.
Grandma Rowena Wandigaux Lee spends her time scribbling in her journals and deadening the air with her continued tales of the old days, particularly about her deceased daughter, Babygirl. Everyone tires of hearing about crazy Babygirl, especially Beau's mother and his aunt. When Grandma Weenie isn't bringing down the party with her histories, the adults are providing their own fun-stealing activities. They spend the two weeks drinking and, in the process, bickering with one another.
It's more than a 10-year-old-boy can bear. So when cousin Sumter introduces Beau to the shack in the woods, it's a refreshing change. Yet nearly immediately something is wrong. The shack is chilling and creepy, and so is the box into which Sumter pours all of his attentions. Beau is beset by visions --- horrible visions --- and is continually encouraged by Sumter to make sacrifices to Lucy, for Lucy can make Neverland come true, and the world of grownups and pain and despair will be no more.
With NEVERLAND, Douglas Clegg has put together a haunting story that has two main focuses. On one hand is the standard horror/chiller tale. With this element, he strikes the right nerves. The terrors that he puts on the page certainly rattle the cages. Mix in the sprinkles of history and stories of magic and slave tales, and you have a fine beginning.
Clegg doesn't just stop there, however. The second element is the coming-of-age tale. NEVERLAND is told from the viewpoint of 10-year-old Beau, and the awkwardness of the age leaps off the page, caught in that midland between innocent childhood and prepubescent confusion. It would be a fair assessment to say that while the horror element on its own is good, this story would have lost much of its impact had Clegg failed to deliver on the authenticity of Beau and the other children.
Hand in hand with Beau's confusion about life in general is the question of reality as it deals with Lucy and Neverland. What is happening and what isn't? What is true and what is a lie? As Beau feels the world turning upside down in his actions with Sumter in the shack, and as the adults drink and fight and lie, he begins to question "where lies the boundary between the perceived world and the imagined?"
NEVERLAND was first published by Pocket Books in 1991. Now, almost 20 years later, the novel is getting new life, complete with some haunting interior artwork from Glenn Chadbourne that serves to accentuate an already creepy and chilling tale. If you missed out on NEVERLAND in its original run, then you certainly would be doing yourself a favor to take up the story now.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 12, 2011