Review: The Bridge to Never Land

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!

12 thoughts on “Review: The Bridge to Never Land

  1. I’ve read the first book in this series and while I liked it, it didn’t feel “magical.” It was fun and kind of exciting, but there wasn’t any wow factor.

    RP’s Kingdom Keeper series is even worse with the soulless characters/writing/etc., though– so much so that I’m thinking all the good stuff in this book was DB, and all the bad stuff RP (if that makes sense).

      • Hey. If you’re gonna criticize this book just because it doesn’t stand on its own, then read the previous books before reviewing the book. It’s your fault for reading this book with absolutely no knowledge of the previous books, so don’t criticize it because of your mistake! I bet you didn’t even know that if it wasn’t for Pearson, this book series wouldn’t even be there. This is a COLLABORATION. Meaning that they’re sharing ideas. It’s a disgrace that you’re reading the book just for Barry’s writing. I am absolutely appauled at this.

        .

      • A novel should be, more or less, self-contained, even if it’s an installment in a series; I talk about this at length here on The Literary Omnivore. Harry Potter is a good example of a children’s series where you can pick up any installment and enjoy that specific installment, although you won’t get the complete satisfaction of reading the entire series. To be fair, it does go out of its way to do so and there are more organic ways of doing it, but it still manages the trick. I found it especially faulty that this installment in the Starcatchers series, which is very different from the rest of the series to the best of my knowledge, relied so much on the previous novels that it couldn’t stand on its own legs in any capacity. I don’t review series, I review books.

        In addition, it feels written by the numbers, the characters are flat and uninteresting, and it’s generally joyless. I did pick up this book for Barry’s writing, which I enjoy, and I’ve picked up better books for less. I also expected a collaboration to incorporate the talents of both writers, not disregard Barry’s humor, which he’s famous for.

        Also, I’m not sure what “appauled” is, but I’m assuming you meant “appalled”.

  2. I loved the first four books in this series and believed (and still do) that the Sword of Mercy was a perfect ending. Why must they continue? I agree, it sounds like something from a fanfiction. I must admit that I haven’t read it, but even the idea that they would try and continue the series in this way disappoints me. However, I shall most likely read it if the opportunity presents itself.

      • As a HUGE fan of the first four books I can say that I hated the fifth book so much. All your points about it basically being fanfiction are 100% accurate. While the first four books are phenomenal, this one was terrible and completely unnecessary to add, the previous four books wrapped up the story perfectly.

  3. One big add for DisneyWorld; product placement all over the place. A real disappointment after the first four. I felt the authors forgot who their audience is: 9-13 year olds. Using protaganists new to the series and significantly older than those in the first four books was a mistake. Younger kids don’t make the jump and the travel to the parallel universe stuff lost them. Should have left well-enough alone at “Sword of Mercy”

  4. Pingback: Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson – The Bridge to Never Land | Fyrefly's Book Blog

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