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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

NEW NOVEL! Christina Henry's "Lost Boy"

Author:  Christina Henry 
Title:  Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook 
Genre:  Fantasy 
Publisher:  Penguin Random House (7/2017)

     From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a familiar story with a dark hook—a tale about Peter Pan and the friend who became his nemesis, a nemesis who may not be the black-hearted villain Peter says he is…

     There is one version of my story that everyone knows. And then there is the truth. This is how it happened. How I went from being Peter Pan’s first—and favorite—lost boy to his greatest enemy.

     Peter brought me to his island because there were no rules and no grownups to make us mind. He brought boys from the Other Place to join in the fun, but Peter's idea of fun is sharper than a pirate’s sword. Because it’s never been all fun and games on the island. Our neighbors are pirates and monsters. Our toys are knife and stick and rock—the kinds of playthings that bite.

     Peter promised we would all be young and happy forever. Peter lies. 

    In a video interview about this novel for Fangirl Nation, Christina Henry explains that she frequently finds "imaginative space" within literary works—places where the author has left something out, something that she wants to know more about. After reading J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan to her eleven-year-old son, Henry wondered why Captain Hook hates Peter Pan so much? What would make a grown man despise a child so much that he wants to kill him? In Lost Boy, Henry has created a prequel to Peter Pan that answers that very question.

     You may have seen the Disney animated movie or Hook, with Robin Williams as Peter Pan, but if you go back to the original story and read between the lines, you'll see that Peter isn't as happy and carefree as he appears on the surface. Henry searched carefully for those hints and spun them into a dark and violent tale that explains exactly what happened between Peter and Captain Hook that made them mortal enemies. 

     Long before Captain Hook was a vengeance-obsessed, one-handed pirate, he was Peter's very first boy and his name was Jamie. Jamie tells his story in his eloquent first-person voice (which Henry handles masterfully). Jamie ends the Prologue with these words: "Peter will say I'm a villain, that I wronged him, that I never was his friend. But...Peter lies. This is what really happened." 

     As the story begins, Jamie has been on Peter's island for 150 seasons (approximately 38 years), but he still looks as if he is about 12 years old. "It was the island that kept us all young, though some of us wouldn't stay that way. Some of the boys, for reasons none of us could comprehend, grew up like normal. It didn't happen too often, for Peter was pretty good at choosing the right sort of character for the island and I think that had something to do with it, the desire to stay a boy and do boy things for always."

     Early in the book Jamie muses about the good old days when, "I was the only one who was special, truly special, for I was the first, and would be the last if it came to that. It would always be Peter and me, like we were in the beginning." But gradually, the relationship between Peter and Jamie has changed. Over the years, Jamie has become a caretaker for the lost boysa big brother, or perhaps even a mother figure. He makes sure that they get enough food and rest, that they don't fight too much among themselves, that they can take care of themselves in the woods, and that they help with the work around the camp. "Peter was for fun, for play, for adventures. Me, I kept his playmates alive—even when he didn't want them anymore." Now the boys turn to Jamie rather than to Peter for support, which makes Peter grow more and more jealous of Jamie. 

     Peter likes to have 15 boys in his group, so if he loses one or two in battles or to illness, he goes through the magic rabbit hole back to the Other Place to seduce replacements from the crowds of homeless street boys who are desperate for a happy life. "To Peter all children were replaceable (except himself). When he lost one...he would...get a new one, preferably an unwanted one, because then the boy didn't miss the Other Place so much and he was happy to be here and to do what Peter wanted. Those who didn't listen so well or weren't happy as the singing birds in the trees found themselves in the fields of the Many-Eyed [vicious monsters] without a bow or left near the pirate camp or otherwise forgotten, for Peter had no time for boys who didn't want his adventures." 

     Usually, Peter takes Jamie along on his "recruitment" journeys, but not the last one, which resulted in two new boys who definitely do not fit the usual mold. Charlie is the youngest boy ever to live on Peter's island. He is about five years old, and Jamie is pretty sure that Peter did not find Charlie on the streets because Charlie speaks fondly of his mother—the hugs she gave him and the songs she sang to him. The other boy is Nip, an older, tougher boy whose primary demeanor is sullen and mean. Nip constantly challenges Jamie's orders, and Jamie soon realizes that Nip plans to step up and take his place as second-in-command. 

     As Jamie tells his story, he reminisces about how he felt about Peter in the old days when life really was all fun and frolic. "I was smaller then, and Peter was big and brave and wonderful. He said, 'Come away and we'll have adventures and be friends always,' and I put my hand in his and he smiled and that smile went into my heart and stayed there." But even back then, Jamie hated the violent interludes that Peter insisted on—the periodic bloody raids on the pirates (who never came inland to bother them, so why attack them?); the occasional attack by one of the Many-Eyed (huge spidery monsters who live in the north meadow); and the intermittent battles between boys (which are always fought on the Battle Rock). Peter insists on battles whenever two boys argue over something or get into fights—or whenever Peter just wants to enjoy watching some violence. In these battles the boys fight with sharp rocks and sticks and hard fists and kicks so they are always very bloody, but the Battle Rock magically absorbs all of the blood. 

     Recently, Jamie has been getting less and less happy about living on Peter's island, and less and less friendly toward Peter, who senses Jamie's changing attitude. And one more thing...Jamie is beginning to grow—just an inch every once in awhile, but he is definitely growing taller, another fact that Peter notices. It takes Jamie awhile to figure out why he's growing, but it's obvious that Peter knows exactly what's going on with his first boy.

     As the story plays out, Peter gets more and more vicious, and Jamie gets more and more defensive and protective of Charlie and of another new member of Peter's tribe. Eventually, just as in William Golding's Lord of the Flies, the lost boys' society falls violently apart and everyone's life either ends abruptly or changes completely. I won't tell you any more of the plot because the enjoyment of the book lies in watching the events play out to their horrific conclusion. (Warning! If you are a reader who likes to peek at the last few pages before starting a book, don't do that with Lost Boy or you will absolutely ruin the story for yourself.)

     By the end, Henry has used Barrie's "imaginative space" to answer her question about Captain Hook, and it's a wonderfully satisfying answer. In fact, I prefer Henry's version to Barrie's.

     Henry gives her primary characters many layers, so we feel their joyous emotions about doing boy things on the island for the rest of their lives, but also, their uneasiness over Peter's penchant for violence and his annoyance when they are injured or sick. Jamie, of course, bares his soul to us as he tells his sad story—from his nightmares of his dead mother to his fears about who or what Peter truly is and what is going to happen to him and to Charlie. I always found Peter's character to be difficult to interpret in the original story. He always made me feel uneasy, particularly because of his unrepentant hatred for grown-ups. In this book, though, there is no doubt about Peter's intentions because here he is a vicious sociopath who masks his true emotions. You need to remember Jamie's warning in the Prologue: "Peter lies." You may be thinking, What about Tinkerbell? Yes, she does make an appearance, but in such a subtle, secretive manner that you almost don't notice her at first. By the time you understand her role in Lost Boy, you are hardly surprised that it bears no resemblance at all to the original story. Trust me, no one is going to be clapping for Tinkerbell in this book.

     For me, this was a can't-put-it-down novel that pulled me along with its compelling plot, rising suspense, and sympathetic characters. I worried about Charlie from the moment I met him in the first chapter. Although Barrie wrote his book for children, Henry wrote this one for adults, so beware—it gets very violent and bloody in places because Peter does some truly horrible things to people. Nevertheless, Henry is such a fantastic storyteller that I think you'll enjoy it tremendously, particularly if you got a kick out of Henry's CHRONICLES OF ALICE duology. Click HERE to read my reviews of the two ALICE novels.

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