Neverland by Margot McGovern

“Kit Learmonth would rather die than grow up and leave Neverland . . .”

Trigger warnings for Neverland: self harm, suicide, eating disorders, emotional manipulation, and more. The book is largely set at a psychiatric treatment centre and this may be distressing for some readers.

Kit Learmonth has spent half her life daydreaming. In reality, she’s a troubled teen with a violent past and a history of self harm. In her fantasies, she is a Peter Pan like heroine, living amongst pirates and mermaids, seeking adventure and never growing old. Neverland begs the question: can Kit look past her fantasies and face up to reality? After all, her memories are scattered and distorted. What really happened the night she lost her parents in a tragic boating accident? Will discovering the truth set Kit free, or keep her locked in childish imaginings forever?

Personally, I see two sides to Margot McGovern’s book. We have the Neverland of Kit’s fantasies, a magical island locale in which she was raised on her father’s fairytales and pirate stories. Alternatively, there’s the “real” Neverland, which is no longer the idyllic playground Kit once believed it to be. Kit’s childhood home lost much of it’s allure and mystique when her uncle transformed it into a school and mental health facility for ill teenagers. As a child Kit knew Neverland only as the former, but now she returns at age seventeen as a patient, following her recent suicide attempt. Thus, half the book is filled with lyrical prose, focusing on Kit’s wild stories of selkies and pirates. However, even in Kit’s fantasies, we sense a darker undercurrent, which is further explored in the more realistic portions of the book. This gap between reality and Kit’s imaginings creates an interesting juxtaposition, and allows us to see two very different sides of McGoverns writing style. Personally I loved the fantastical element of the book. It reminded me of Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, and Treasure Island. Kit’s stories were the highlight of Neverland for me. They were utterly magical, yet full of dark foreboding.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the more realistic scenes were quite as strong. They were often vague, and at times it seemed like Kit’s mental health issues were more of a plot device than something that was being explored seriously. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Neverland romanticises mental illness, but there are times when I felt it came close to doing so. Kit never seems to receive any diagnosis, or recovery plan, and the book doesn’t include any references to resources for readers who are experiencing mental health issues. This struck me as quite odd, given that the book is largely set in a psychiatric treatment centre, and includes some fairly graphic self harm scenes. Basically, Neverland is a book that it will appeal to a lot of troubled kids, and I feel it would have responsible of McGovern to explain Kit’s issues more fully (instead of wrapping them up hastily so that the book can have a happy ending) and to include some self help resources for readers.

That being said, I still feel that McGovern is a great storyteller, and I enjoyed this book immensely. I’d love to see McGovern give into the fanciful side of her writing style and try her hand at fantasy or science fiction. Her style would be perfect for a fairytale re-imagining / retelling. Overall, I’ll remember Neverland for it’s cast of great characters, thrillingly dark vibe, and magical writing. Plus, as I mentioned in my last review, I do love to read Australian authors. Ultimately, while I had some issues with Neverland, it was still a great book that I would recommend to all lovers of YA contemporaries. My rating:

four stars

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