Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
I've never read this book, or its sequels, before now. "Whaaat?" you gasp. "Fantasy adventure based on familiar characters in children's literature, and YOOOU haven't READ them?!"
Ah shut up. I know what these books are without reading them. So do you. And I know the kid who reads these books - or who will at least give them a try with very little need for wheedling or booktalking. That kid is not, as we say, a discriminating reader. That kid will read very long books regardless of whether they're terrific or not, because that kid likes to read. When that kid asks me for book recommendations, it's not because he or she has trouble finding books that appeal to his or her taste, it's because that kid has READ EVERYTHING ELSE.
So when the response to everything I suggest is “Already read it,” I start suggesting books I haven't read but have heard are good, and the Dave Barry Peter books are in that category.
I always meant to though, and when I saw that the audio version was narrated by the great Jim Dale, I snapped it right up for our Spring Break road trip. Let me tell you, this book made the long hours bombing up and down Virginia interstates go by quickly for my young boys. Even my husband was hanging on every word, although there was a dreadful chapter somewhere at the end of the first third of the book that was SOLID EXPOSITION. Even Jim Dale was rushing through that one.
Now that we've finished the book, I have to say that my opinion of it has not changed. It's a galloping adventure that follows a familiar arc, populated with half a Magic Kingdom's worth of good guys and bad guys. But it's almost as if the lead character could be any of the eleven-year-old orphans that litter children's literature. Peter Pan is nowhere in sight. Now, I recognize that Peter and the Starcatchers is a prequel to Peter Pan, and so Peter is not yet Pan, thoughtless and amoral, uncivilized, illiterate, pure id – but the Peter in this story? His behavior is beyond reproach. He is loyal, brave, caring, and smart. He's a hero almost from the first page. He is fabulously dull.
No wonder the authors felt compelled to feature not one but two villainous sea dogs, each with a comic-relief henchman (Smee, of course, assists the proto-Hook), and not one but two tempting and resourceful female sidekicks (I do wish to thank the authors for a neat explanation of mermaids). And by the end of the book, it felt as if we were going down a checklist of story elements that had to be in place. Hook loses a hand? Check. Tinkerbell? Check. Peter can fly? Check. Crocodile? Check.
And I missed Pan - surly, solipsistic, charismatic, somewhat dicky Pan.