When I was a child, I had an active imagination. I created entire worlds populated with all sorts of different beings. Some were human (my four “imaginary” friends), some were more like faeries, while others were based on cartoon characters I’d seen on television and really wanted to hang out with. I must have spent hours of my childhood looking for Smurf village! As I grew, I left behind my imaginary friends, mourning the loss of each one until finally saying goodbye to the one I considered my best friend. I grew up. I learned that a society based so firmly in a manufactured version of reality has no place for childhood whimsy.
We are expected to stop believing in Santa Claus, fairies, dragons, and magic. Holding on to those notions will earn you a quick trip to a mental ward followed by a strict regimen of anti-psychotics. Is it any wonder children stop believing in magic before they reach puberty?
What if we could get it back, though? What if those childhood dreams of worlds created from sheer imagination turned out to be real? What if those dreams are the only thing that breathes life into a whole different world? What if giving them up resulted in the senseless slaughter of its inhabitants? What if, every time a child grow up and stop believing, a fairy really does die?
In Kirstina Circelli’s The Never, Arianna must face these questions, as well as questions about her own sanity. See, Arianna, like most imaginative children, was a dreamer. She embarked on numerous adventures with her friend Malachi in the land for which the book was named. Then, one day, Arianna’s mother worried that Arianna was mentally ill. Soon came trips to “experts,” people who tried to scare the imagination right out of Arianna. In the end, her mother began feeding her little blue pills that took away her imagination and blocked Malachi from finding her. Until one day, years in the future, when Arianna forgot to take her medicine.
When Arianna finally returned to the Never, it wasn’t the place she left behind. It was dark, violent and frightening. The merfolk no longer sang, the children’s once-innocent games became deadly, and very light seemed to be sucked from the world. Arianna’s efforts to save The Never result in more tragedy and more darkness, until she finally realized exactly what she means to the land.
Neverland…all grown up
is an incredibly well-crafted re-imagining of a classic story in which children never grow up. A land where pirates clash with children, where faeries dance in glades, and where lost boys call home. Aside from a few loose connections to the familiar tale, this is a very new story that stands all on its own. It’s Neverland all grown up, and it’s a far darker version than the one we’re used to.
Throughout the book, a skeptical reader may wonder if the entire world really is all in Arianna’s head. After all, it seems to take on her emotions, thoughts, and dreams as if they were its own. Those who still long to believe in magic and imagination, however, will yell at Arianna’s mom and fiance to let her return to the land where she truly belongs. In the end, it’s left up to the reader to decide if Arianna has lost her mind…or truly found it once again.
Cirelli has a magical way with words. She paints an achingly beautiful yet stark landscape in the reader’s eye, a true vision of a land that lost its way along with the woman who lost her place in the world. I knew I was going to enjoy the writing right from the foreword, but I had no idea how deeply enthralling it would be. I loved every minute of the book and never wanted the adventure to end.