Issue 23’s review
Neverland (2018) Margot McGovern
Review by Jess Rae (this review can also be read in the Underground zine, issue 23: Cast)
Author: Margot McGovern
Genre: YA Mental health/fantasy
Favourite Quote: “Never yield.”
Trigger warning: This book review deals with the subject of depression, anxiety and self harm. Please be aware when reading ahead and when considering purchasing this book.
I, like many others in the YA community, had heard a lot about Neverland, and frankly looking at this stunning cover you can understand why it’s generated a lot of chatter. It took me a while to actually pick up this book due to its subject matter: mental health. Mental health tackled in most books I have read comes across very “rose-coloured glasses” to me. As someone who suffers from severe anxiety there is nothing worse than hearing my struggles being resolved by a pretty-packaged romance; I talk about this a lot in another review I did over a year ago on Holly Bourne’s Am I Normal Yet? Neverland explores the need to escape within your own world to the detriment of one’s own mental health. With a good dash of dark fantasy, which is completely my vibe, Neverland is a compelling blend of real-life trauma and haunting creatures.
Neverland follows Kit Learmonth, a teenager who suffers from depression and anxiety brought on by the death of her parents on a fateful night on the sea leaving their precious island. In her last year of school, after performing near-fatal harm on herself, Kit is returned back to her island with her Uncle, Doc. What used to be Kit’s island of mermaids, pirates and treasure is now a lot more sinister, with the magical creatures gone and instead being inhabited with other damaged teens too unwell to attend regular schooling. Living her normal life on Neverland is no longer an option for her after her self-harm and being admitted in as a patient and not just a resident. Furthermore, her usual gang of “lost boys” (Gypsy and Alistair) has a new member, a good-looking and damaged boy called Rohan.
Her time on the island as a patient, growing close with Rohan and butting heads with her uncle and therapist lead to resurfacing anxieties and memories. Through a dangerous night she starts to learn what really happened that night Kit lost her parents and which fantasies are very much real. Without too much spoiling the boy does not save the day or the girl and that is one of the many things that I enjoyed about this book.
It’s the mix between real-life and this beautiful fantasy world that I enjoyed most about Neverland. Margot McGovern paints a beautiful dark world that gives us, as the readers, clues to Kit’s past prior to the final reveal towards the end of the novel. This novel is a really lovely example of “showing not telling” in terms of filling in the gaps of Kit’s past using the fantastical stories Kit tells her friends. Without giving too much away Kit’s sexuality is also quite refreshing, in terms of Kit being quite open with her sexuality and it not being something that makes her a “slut” or “weak”. It’s really wonderful seeing YA novels with sexual female characters that aren’t criticized for embracing their sexuality. More so it’s refreshing to read YA novels that tackle mental health in a realistic, non-romantic way. With titles like Neverland, Am I Normal Yet?, etc it makes me really excited for the future of YA novels tackling mental health.