I absolutely adored Marisha Pessl’s debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and was one of many fans disappointed and confused by her follow-up, Night Film (tho the multimedia aspect of that novel was really, really nice.) So I put her third novel, Neverworld Wake, on my to-read pile but didn’t feel any burning need to actually get to it. I’m so glad that I finally did.
And before I get to reviewing the body of the book, I have to say that I kinda sorta understand why it’s marketed as a Young Adult novel but I don’t really agree. Sure, NW is about five teenagers reliving a single night of their lives over and over before banding together to investigate the death of a boy who’d once been integral to their lives. And there isn’t any graphic sex, which seems to be the only thing that would have prevented the YA label. But the protagonists being teenagers doesn’t automatically classify it as a novel for not-yet-mature readers, IMO. Idk, book marketing is weird.
Anyway! Bee is our heroine, known as Sister Bee by her former classmates at the Darrow-Harker School for her unrelenting niceness. She was dating Jim, the songwriting prodigy working on a musical about the life of John Lennon, when his body is found in a nearby quarry just days before graduation. Bee’s grief causes her to flee Darrow-Harker even before the cops close the case as a suicide, but she knows Jim would never kill himself. For the next year, she goes about in a sort of trance as she tries to make sense of his death.
When one of their former circle invites her to a party, Bee accepts, thinking that if she can confront her old friends, they’ll help her find out what really happened that fateful night. But a car crash slips them into the Neverworld, a place where they’re forced to repeat the past eleven or so hours until they can all decide on which one of them gets to live while the rest slip forever into death.
So far, so many tropes, but Ms Pessl blends them all together into a really terrific, sensitively written meditation on youth and relationships that, above all, elevates friendship and the power of kindness and gratitude to change lives. I do wish there’d been a little more examining of Bee and Jim’s relationship after she managed to wake in Central Park, but I do think that overall it was a deeply satisfying novel, even if you do ache, as I did, for dorky, gallant Martha. The last scene in the Neverworld, especially, was incredibly moving.
Definitely a return to form for Ms Pessl. I can’t wait to see what she writes next!