Author: Marisha Pessl
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Science Fiction
Pub Date: June 2018 (read Sept. 2018 on Audible)
I finished Neverworld Wake a few days ago as an audiobook and I’ve been thinking about it over the last few days and I’ve been struggling to come to a conclusion about how I felt about it. I decided I didn’t really like it, but then when I sat down to write the review I discovered that there were elements to the story that I did really enjoy. So I think I’m landing on a borderline 3 star review.
Neverworld Wake has a great science fiction concept. It brings together a group of friends who have somewhat lost touch in the year since graduating high school at Darrow. Our main character Beatrice was once very close with her group of 6 friends in high school, but after the death of her boyfriend, Jim, at the end of senior year, she cuts herself off from the rest of her friends. Jim’s death is marked down by the police as a suicide, but Beatrice and her friends still have a lot of questions about what really happened to Jim. They reunite one night a year later and a car accident catapults them into an event known as the neverworld wake. A old man appears and informs the 6 friends that they will be forced to relive the same day over and over again until they can all agree on a decision to a specific course of action (I won’t explicitly state what decision they must make to avoid spoilers).
I’ll talk first about what I liked. Most of all I liked that the story had two key elements driving the plot. There’s the Neverworld Wake, which is a fascinating concept in itself and is what makes this a science fiction novel. The 6 friends are forced to relive the same day over and over again. They could do whatever they like, initiate any sort of consequence, but at the end of each day, time will reset for them at the start of the same day. Whatever sequence of events they set in course during the day are effectively rendered moot at the end of the day and they are forced to start over. It raises a lot of interesting questions about human behaviour and how a group of individuals will react when faced with a dire decision. In this case, it involves a lot of frustration at the beginning and then a certain amount of avoidance by each of the characters as they struggle to come to any kind of consensus.
The second element of the story is the mystery of what happened to Jim. Beatrice was torn apart by his death and is really a wreck. All of the friends seems to be harbouring secrets about what happened the night Jim went missing and when they fail to come to a consensus to escape the neverworld wake, they decide to start investigating the circumstances of Jim’s death. I thought both the mystery element and the science fiction element were great and integrating both of them together made for a much more dynamic story. Honestly, either of these elements could have been a story on it’s on.
What I didn’t like was that for what should have been a really fast paced and dynamic thriller, I was kind of bored. What can be a strength for a novel (integrating 2 different storylines) can also work as a weakness if the author fails to do justice to both storylines, which is what I think happened in Neverworld Wake. Pessl had two great concepts that I wanted to see developed, but I think she failed to develop either in sufficient detail. The concept of reliving the same day over and over again raises so many questions about group dynamics. It’s a Lord of the Flies type scenario as we watch a group of individuals try to come to terms with what’s happening to them so that they can escape, but ultimately start to fall apart and descend into anarchy. There are no consequences for these teenagers. No matter what they do, time will reset for them at the end of the day. As a result, some characters lose hope and start to fall a part, while others are incentivised to figure out how to escape.
The friends research into what happened to Jim serves a similar purpose. For some it provides much needed answers and an opportunity for closure, while for others, it exposes truths they’d rather remain hidden. Both elements are great, but for the first half of the book, I struggled to figure out how they were related and there was no real urgency driving the story. I felt like the characters desperation at being stuck in the neverworld would drive a lot of action, but it actually stalls it in the beginning with an incapacity of any of the characters to move forward. I was surprisingly bored. I thought the main point of the story was going to be to examine this Lord of the Flies type scenario, but then it ended up really being about what happened to Jim. I feel like the author had two great ideas, but didn’t really know how to execute either.
Ultimately, I wanted to like this, but at the end of the day it fell a little flat for me.