by Douglas Clegg
Reviewed by Nu Yang
Everyone remembers their family vacations from their childhoods, but I bet none of them were like Beau Jackson’s, the young narrator in Douglas Clegg’s horror novel Neverland. The road trip to the family’s summer home on Gull Island starts off with the death of a family pet. If that’s not a bad omen, I don’t know what is. From there, the story’s dark tone only grows more sinister.
A major part in the story’s darkness resides in Neverland, the shack in the middle of the woods which Beau’s cousin, Sumter, has turned into a clubhouse. The name is an obvious play on Peter Pan’s magical home, where children stay young forever and no grown-ups are allowed. For the kids in Neverland, it’s an escape from the bickering parents and the tensions fueled by alcohol almost every night. But the more time Beau spends in Neverland, the more he discovers the alluring dark power of the hiding spot and its hold on his cousin. Sumter believes a god called “Lucy” lives in Neverland and Lucy demands sacrifices. At one point, Beau even considers that Lucy is short for Lucifer. As their games with Lucy become more frequent, the innocence is lost and the horror only intensifies.
For a horror novel, the ending was a little too neat and tidy for me. Yes, there was a body count (including a death by teddy bear), and I don’t mind a happy, hopeful ending every now and then, but to me, Beau walked out of what should have been a life-changing situation, a little too calmly. An adult Beau tells the story to the reader, which might have detracted from the immediate danger and action. The only thing we get from Beau’s adulthood is that he has failed and succeeded at various careers and relationships, when perhaps he should have checked into a mental hospital after everything he witnessed as a child that summer. I also wish Clegg had touched upon Beau’s telepathic powers more. It was hinted throughout the story by his shared thoughts and communication with Sumter, but it is never really resolved in the end. A big question was why did Sumter turn out to be the “bad seed” when Beau seemed to possess the same supernatural powers as his cousin?
What Clegg does best is build on suspense. From start to finish, the story is creepy. He does it well by slowing things down and letting whatever horrific image he is describing linger in the reader’s mind (really, the book is worth the read just by the murderous teddy bear alone). Added bonuses to the book are the black and white illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne, which only enhances the chilling reading experience.
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