As a long time Insta-follower of Margot McGovern and her wonderful blog Project Lectito, I had my copy of her debut novel Neverland pre-ordered the minute it was available. Intrigued by the hints Margot was dropping on her social media and drawn in by the amazing cover art, I couldn’t wait to sink into this book. I know, I know, we’re not meant to judge a book by its cover, but the contents of the book well and truly lived up to my expectations.
‘After doing herself near fatal harm, Kit has returned to her island home. But it’s a place she hardly recognises: the witch and mermaids are hiding and the pirates have sailed to more bountiful shores. In their place is Neverland and its inhabitants – damaged teens too sick to be in regular school, watched over by her psychiatrist uncle. And now Kit is one of them.’
One of the things I enjoyed the most about this novel is the character of Kit. There are times she is undeniably bratty, as she admits, but she is such a complex character you can’t help but keep reading. There’s something likeable about Kit, even when she’s pushing the boundaries and behaving horribly to some of the other characters in the story. The further the novel progressed, the more it became obvious that Kit’s behaviour, particularly towards her uncle, affectionately called Doc, is a defence mechanism. She’s trying to protect herself from any more hurt.
The novel opens with Doc arriving at Kit’s school after her self-harm attempt. Doc takes her home to ‘Neverland’, the place of her childhood. Immediately, Kit is flooded by a sense of nostalgia and longing, for the good times she had on the island as a young child. I think this is something most readers would be able to sympathise with, and you can feel Kit’s disappointment when the place is not as she remembered. She’s also struggling to come to terms with the fact that her relationship with her uncle is strained and distant, and getting closer to one of the Lost Ones, Rohan, isn’t making the gap any easier to bridge.
McGovern explores the topic of mental illness and self-harm in teens with a sympathetic eye, without romanticising it. To Kit, her self harm is a release and a way of supressing the terrible events of her past that have left her feeling alone and spiralling out of control. She talks about dragging a razor across her skin with in such a casual way it was a bit alarming to read, but realistic for the character. Kit has been cutting herself for such a long time, it’s become an addiction.
I will admit, I did find the pacing towards the last few chapters to be a little bit uneven. The end of the novel for me came to such an abrupt stop, and I was left feeling a little bit like all the issues throughout the book, especially for Kit, were resolved a little too neatly as we came to the end. Perhaps that was also just me not wanting the novel to end, but I think if there had been an extra chapter or two about Kit’s character development, and a little more insight into why she makes the choices she does towards the end of the novel, it would have made for a bit more of a satisfying finish.
Overall, I loved this book. On Lectito, McGovern dropped a casual mention that she is working on her second manuscript, and I am already hanging out to read her next novel. Neverland is a story that delivers a heady dose of nostalgia for a safe place that used to exist, and a realisation that what seems like the end may just be the beginning.
‘More than that, I realised, he was offering me a happy thought. A life ring to cling to on a vast and darkening sea.’