Review: Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

Genre: YA Fiction
Publication Date: 2018
Publisher: Delacorte

Elevator Pitch: Five friends at Darrow-Harker School are devastated when their friend Jim ends up dead. A year later, the classmates meet up once again. Beatrice Hartley is determined to find out happened to Jim, her first love. But a tragic car crash happens on a rainy night, and all five characters end up stuck between life and death. In order to stop living the same day over and over again, they have to unanimously vote on who lives and who dies. Only one of them can leave the Neverworld Wake alive.

My Tagline: Edge of Tomorrow (minus the Tom Cruise smarm) meets We Were Liars by E. Lockhart meets a very special episode of Scooby-Doo

The Good: I didn’t love this book, but I did find things to appreciate.

◊ It featured a boarding school, and I will read anything set in a boarding school, even a school catalog. (Unfortunately, the boarding school in this book is mostly tangential, but at least it existed.)

◊ The time travel element was creative and different from other books that featured something similar. Pessl doesn’t get bogged down explaining the physics of time travel. She just sets up an absurd situation and runs with it. I liked the idea of imagining a slip of time just between death and not-death.

◊ The plot is rather large and sprawling, and while I don’t think it necessarily came together elegantly, I do think the pacing was good. Books with this much plot structure can easily be weighed down by too much extraneous information. Pessl was strategic about showing only as much as we needed to know.

The Not Good: The book fell apart for me in a few ways:

◊ I get that this is YA, but the characters were so melodramatic (the level of angst about writing musicals–egads!). They were often inconsistent, which made them feel unknowable. Does Bee love Jim or hate him? Does she go back to see the others because she still likes them? Was the vote unanimous or not? Does Kipling know what an annoying little turd he is every time he calls someone “child”? I’ll stop there lest I ruin the plot for you.

◊ The end is where things got a little Scooby-Doo. Characters are madly tying up plot points by conveniently explaining everything in detail to each other. All that was missing was an elderly haunted amusement park proprietor.

◊ I think there may have been two separate books in here. On one hand, there’s the story of Jim’s death. Was it murder or suicide? On the other hand, there’s the story of being stuck in time. (And the possible third book is why Kipling isn’t immediately voted into death for his personality, child.)

◊ The problem with setting Jim’s death in the past is that everything that led up to it was off the page for readers. It was hard to care about how and why a character died when we don’t know him. Bee is pretty inscrutable, which means we aren’t getting much from her either.

◊ A Goodreads reviewer sums up the other problems quite nicely. Check out her amusing post if you want to hear from someone who really didn’t like it.

Verdict: If you like YA and have a high tolerance for annoying teens, then I say read it. I give Pessl huge props for tackling time travel and a murder mystery all rolled into one. I was entertained, but I can’t say that I would ever want to spend time with these people again. 

 

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