Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Peter Pan was quintessential in my childhood. I watched the Disney cartoon so many times that I was Peter Pan for Halloween in kindergarten. When the 2003 live-action movie came out, the “I do believe in fairies!” sequence just pumped my sisters and me up. I’d heard that, of all the retellings and unofficial sequels out there, Peter and the Starcatchers was the one to read.

It took me several weeks to get through it. I’ll explain.

Peter is an orphan boy bound to sail for unknown lands, along with a few other boys. They find themselves on the Never Land, along with several cranky adults, and one other child, a girl named Molly. Peter soon discovers a magical secret hiding aboard the ship: a secret that Molly herself holds the key to. After a terrifying encounter with a vicious band of pirates, Peter and his friends find themselves on a mysterious island filled with mermaids, savages, a giant hungry crocodile, and just a touch of magic.

Peter and the Starcatchers has the ingredients of a great children’s fantasy epic. The characters are all sympathetic and the adventure is creative. I’m sure if I were a little younger and didn’t prefer a more sophisticated writing style, I would have loved it.

Part of why I didn’t love this book was because the writing style was quite elementary. The overuse of passive voice got on my nerves after a bit. The short chapters might be great for someone just learning to read children’s books, but they were just the slightest jarring to me.

I will say, though, that the origin of how Peter can fly and how he met Tinker Bell is pretty cool. It does carry that Neverland flavor of wishing you could do fantastic and magical things as a kid. Plus, the story of the Starcatchers and what they do is creative.

Peter’s characterization does bother me a bit. In the beginning, it’s made clear that he enjoys being the leader. He even has this quirk about always having to be older than all the kids (he doesn’t know his age, so he can just make it up as he needs to).

And yet…that characterization kind of goes out the window as the story goes on. In fact, this Peter does not feel at all like the Peter Pan he’s supposed to become. He had that one little seed of his future self with needing to be oldest, but there’s nothing else indicating the self-absorbed but fun-loving Lost Boy leader we’re familiar with. He feels pretty bland, at least compared to the pirates he comes up against.

Oh, the pirates. The main villain, Black Stache, is one of the most over-the-top pirate characters I’ve ever read. He kind of reminded me of Barbossa from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, except with no charisma. He just shouts and curses and kills people at the slightest indiscretion. And yet, he doesn’t feel like the threat he’s supposed to.

And it’s still a Peter Pan story. Fun and imaginative things do take place in it. Just…not enough to keep me turning the pages of the rest of the series.

The beginning of the book had a lot of promise. But after a bit, it just turned into a bland children’s adventure. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it could have done more to maintain its original, magical flavor.

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