The past, present, and future coalesce for recent high school graduate Beatrice Hartley and her former group of friends in Marisha Pessl’s Neverworld Wake. The psychological thriller blends coming of age, the supernatural, and mystery to comment thoughtfully on issues relevant to teenagers, such as high school relationships, parental pressures, and cliques. Fans of fantastical but ultimately grounded fiction or those seeking a whodunit with some added high school drama will likely enjoy the read.
Beatrice Hartley has not heard from her high school friend group in over a year, not since her boyfriend, Jim’s, sudden death during their senior year. In an attempt to gain closure and see what happened to her friends, she decides to visit Wincroft, the seaside estate they used to spend nights studying and having fun together. However, no answers can be found, and her friends are nearly unrecognizable to her. It seems that they will all continue on their separate paths, never truly understanding what happened the night Jim died, until a terrible accident traps them all in a terrifying plane of reality: the Neverworld Wake. Here, they must work together to try to escape, but there’s a catch: only one of the group gets to escape, all the rest will die.
This is where Pessl’s worldbuilding truly gets a chance to shine. The Neverworld Wake exists almost like an ocean of scenes and surrealism, and while Pessl allows the reader to get caught up in the waves, the rules and crucial moments are never lost. Moreover, the characters and their complicated relationships with one another tether the narrative and keep the reader turning the page. They are not perfectly realistic, but they’re nevertheless genuinely entertaining and at times heartbreaking to see. Furthermore, they’re a great exploration into what happens to teenagers when they’re given nothing but time and are forced to make a truly serious decision.
Overall, Neverworld Wake is a brilliant pseudo-supernatural reinterpretation of the high school murder drama a la Pretty Little Liars or Dead Girls Don’t Lie. Furthermore, although hard to read at times on account of the sorrowful situation of the characters and the loss of high school friends, it is still very much worth reading for its great plotting and character development. I, for one, would definitely recommend it.