The Bridge to Never Land by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
As a kid, I loved Dave Barry, the newspaper humorist. We had a collection or two around the house that I would read and reread, finding him hysterical. I haven’t revisited him since I was a wee thing, but I’ve retained a soft spot for him over the years, perking up when he appeared on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and when Peter and the Starcatchers was released in 2004. I’ve always meant to get around to the series, so when I saw the fifth book in the series available on NetGalley, I decided to give it a shot.
The Bridge to Never Land follows Sarah and Aidan, two typical American teenagers and fans of the Peter and the Starcatchers books. When Sarah finds a message inside an antique desk, she’s surprised to find that it references the book. As she and her brother dig deeper, they discover that the events outlined in the books are real, and that Lord Ombra is after the last cache of starstuff in the world—which she and Aidan have found. Running away from their parents and with the help of a descendant of Molly Aster, the two are out to stop Lord Ombra—in a way that just might include visiting Never Land…
I had two misconceptions about The Bridge to Never Land. I thought it was set in the 1800s—which the first four books are, more or less—and I also thought that it would stand on its own, separate from the rest of the series. But, like many an installment in a series that doesn’t understand that an installment should be able to stand on its own, it relies heavily on what came before and expects you to know certain things. But this was a bit different than the standard version of this, where the book expects you to know simply what happened in the prior books. This only really works if you know the four books inside and out. In fact, it reminded me of nothing so much as self-insert fanfiction for Peter and the Starcatchers. It’s not blatant, but moments like Sarah researching in the book and later being starstruck by meeting Peter are hard to read without having flashbacks to bad fanfiction. There are moments that only have weight if you know what came before, instead of having weight on their own merits. And it’s not really explained how these books are published in our world; are they memoirs? J. D., their adult friend, refers to them in a way that makes them sound very old, but Sarah describes them in a way that makes them sound new… so are they the books you, too, can pick up and buy at your local chain bookstore? It’s iffy. And the sword cuts two ways; I can’t imagine a dedicated fan of the series wanting to spend more than half the book with characters unrelated to the previous four. While J. D. is, at least, a descendant of the female lead of the first four books, Sarah and Aidan are just two random kids. While that can be played well, it just feels utterly arbitrary here.
To make things worse, it wasn’t even funny, which is the real reason I’d pick up something written (or in this case co-written) by Dave Barry. This is not a joyless book, but it feels… well, it feels mechanical. It’s very readable—I can see a child tearing through this in a few days or even on a long flight—but it’s ultimately forgettable. It feels oddly soulless; references that will date quickly, unfunny attempts at humor, and two main characters that just aren’t engaging. Sarah and Aidan remind me of every stock older sister/younger brother combo I’ve seen in movies; they don’t feel like real people. J. D. and Peter almost get there, but they ultimately fall short of the mark. The story takes Sarah and Aidan to England, where they recover a MacGuffin, and back to America as they flee from the villain and ultimately visit Never Land and have a showdown at Disney World. You’d think that last one would be awesome, and, to be fair, it kind of is—I do like that Barry and Pearson are taking advantage of working for Disney by actually using the ride. (To make a long story short, a Starcatcher who worked with Einstein back in the day rigged up the system that will transport you to Never Land. Why couldn’t we have a book about them? They sound cool!) But it trips up by making all the tourists at Disney, including the hardcore fans, sound like idiots as they believe that the flying boy who just stole something from the Peter face character is a robot. In fact, that happens a lot; the sort of cliched plot contrivances that would crop up in a Disney Channel Original Movie or Saved By the Bell appears to be the name of the game here.
It really reminds me of a lot of the bad books I had to wade through for my young adult and children’s literature class. It just kind of hurts to see authors who should be able to do better specifically writing for children and underestimating them so badly, or thinking that they don’t deserve organic, relatable characters and believable plot, much less a series that functions properly. This book isn’t offensive or mean-spirited, and it’s certainly readable, but kids deserve much better.
Bottom line: A mechanical, mildly soulless, and ultimately forgettable series installment that doesn’t stand on its own. Perhaps for fans of the series, but otherwise a miss.
I read this digital galley for free on NetGalley.
The Bridge to Never Land will be released on August 9—tomorrow!