Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl
Edition Purchased: June 7th by Scholastic, 324 pages [not the edition pictured; I just think this cover is pretty!]
Bee hasn’t spoken to her best friends since her boyfriend’s mysterious death. Now a year later, she needs to face them. They’re beautiful, rich and deadly. She is certain one of them holds the truth about what really happened to Jim.
A whirlwind night leads to a narrowly missed car collision and a sinister man knocking at the door as a storm rages outside, to discover a world shattering message.
As secrets unravel and time backbends, the five friends must make a shocking choice.
Trust no one. Fear everything. How would you vote?
Who will survive the Neverworld Wake?
As so many books seem to do, Neverworld Wake surprised me. I started it towards the end of January and, after 100 pages, put it down and didn’t pick it up again until March 23rd, this time as an audiobook. That was the best possible decision I could have made.
To start with: PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS AUDIOBOOK. Not just for the narrator’s soothing voice- she’s great- but for the fact that she also does a Southern accent for Kipling, my favourite character. The prose is very flowery and, at times, cheesy, in this novel, so listening to it as an audiobook actually helped me process it more and get stuck less on trying to decipher meaning.
I think the plot, and overall genre, of this novel is fascinating. It starts off very much supernatural, before morphing into a murder mystery, which slowly incorporates elements of portal fantasy stories, and begins to examine grieving, friendships, and how the people around us shape who we become. Even when I put it down, it wasn’t because of anything to do with plot: it just wasn’t the right time for me to be reading the book in a way where I could actively enjoy it. It’s fast paced and exciting, and also made me cry.
Which leads me onto the characters. Marisha Pessl subverts character tropes in a way I didn’t even realise until the final few pages of the novel, and I think her dedication to subverting the tropes of both character and the plot is what makes reading this so compelling. Bee’s voice pulls you in, both passive and active, somehow, a contradiction, just like all her other friends. The only character I actively disliked was Jim, and Bee’s dedication to him frustrated me to no end, but I think that’s what makes her character so interesting. In spite of people’s flaws, she still loves them, which is so incredibly human.
Her friends are also incredible. They start pompous, proud, believing themselves to be above everyone and everything, until Bee begins to pull back the layers and expose them for what they really are. Whitley, Martha, Kipling and Cannon are all incredible side characters, doing as much for the plot as Bee, and I adore them all, in spite of their very obvious flaws. And the love and adoration that they have for one another is so palpable, it broke my heart, especially at the end.
Marisha Pessl doesn’t create a world that abides by the good/bad logic, and as a result, neither do the characters. They do terrible things to themselves, their friends, strangers, things we can’t even comprehend. We see teenagers whose moral compass leaves the building basically from the get go, and yet… you still really love them. I don’t think I trusted a single character this whole novel, and I can still readily admit I cried for them at the end. At the end of the day, their friendship is there, their love for one another is there, and it breaks your heart.