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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Unhooked" by Lisa Maxwell (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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 OVERVIEW: For as long as she can remember, Gwendolyn Allister has never had a place to call home—all because her mother believes that monsters are hunting them. Now these delusions have brought them to London, far from the life Gwen had finally started to build for herself. The only saving grace is her best friend, Olivia, who’s coming with them for the summer.

But when Gwen and Olivia are kidnapped by shadowy creatures and taken to a world of flesh-eating sea hags and dangerous Fey, Gwen realizes her mom might have been sane all along.

The world Gwen finds herself in is called Neverland, yet it’s nothing like the stories. Here, good and evil lose their meaning and memories slip like water through her fingers. As Gwen struggles to remember where she came from and find a way home, she must choose between trusting the charming fairy-tale hero who says all the right things and the roguish young pirate who promises to keep her safe.

With time running out and her enemies closing in, Gwen is forced to face the truths she’s been hiding from all along. But will she be able to save Neverland without losing herself?

FORMAT: Unhooked is a YA fairytale retelling of Peter Pan. It is darker and grittier than the Disney version. It has magic, adventure, and romance in it.

It is told from the first person point of view of Gwen. Each chapter starts with a small sentence or two story about a young boy going off to war. While it seems unrelated, these sentences do tie into the story.

Unhooked stands at 342 pages and was published February 2, 2016 by Simon Pulse.

ANALYSIS: Fairytale retellings can be tricky to tackle. Authors need to retain just enough of the original story to make readers feel comfortable and familiar with the story, but they need to add enough spin to their version to make it their own. After all, it is supposed to be a retelling, not a rehash of the 'same old, same old'. Lisa Maxwell's Unhooked, a retelling of Peter Pan of sorts, does a great job with finding this very delicate balance between the two must-have elements in a fairytale retelling.

Unhooked grabs readers and takes them away to a very dark, gritty Neverland. Here you find magic, adventure, and the ability to fly around, but there is an undertone of darkness. And of course, living on the island comes with a cost – you start to lose yourself, your past memories, and pretty much you have to sacrifice everything from your former life.

Upon starting Unhooked, there is a slight feeling of confusion. Maxwell doesn't necessarily throw readers into the action, but there are a lot of secrets and untold stories. This gives readers the sense that they are missing something or something was left out. It wasn't left out, as all things slowly start to come together, but it can be very confusing especially if you are expecting a complete Peter Pan knockoff.

Maxwell adds several different twists to the story to make it her own. There are dark faeries, a battle for the island, Pan is not at all like the Disney version (even though he tries to act that way at first), and Hook has a very interesting backstory that forces readers to look at him in a completely different light.

I really enjoyed the twist Maxwell added to the Peter Pan story. After the initial slow/confusing start, the story really took on a life of its own. It was fun to see how Maxwell took some of the original fairytale/Disney version and twisted it to give it a unique angle.

However, despite this novel being what I would consider a fairytale retelling done right, it is not without its flaws. Gwen, our main heroine and who is responsible for telling us the story, is a bit frustrating as a character. There were times when she would act incredibly strong and independent, but then just as quickly she'd be a wishy-washy character who couldn't make up her mind. It almost seemed like if she was supposed to think for her own, she wouldn't and times where she didn't need to think for herself she'd start exerting some level of control over the situation.

I personally would have liked to see Gwen grow a bit more as a character. Unfortunately, she seemed to just glide through the story and let other people/situations tell her what to do.

Another slight flaw was the world-building. Neverland was this mysterious dark world and while readers are given a glimpse into that world, it never really felt like it was enough. I would have loved the romance aspect toned down and more focus on Neverland.

That leads me to the romance. Unhooked had unexpected romance thrown into it. While I understand the importance of romance, it seemed forced and almost overtook the story. There is a budding romance between Gwen and Hook, it almost bordered on the insta-love. Then there was this odd romance between Pan and Olivia (Gwen's best friend who got taken to Neverland). Olivia would get jealous of Gwen whenever Pan looked/talked to Gwen.

The romance does play a role in the plot and adds an element to the story, but I would have liked to see more time devoted to character development (either Gwen or Pan) or developing the world of Neverland.

Even though it is not a perfect book, it is a satisfying read. Upon completion of Unhooked, I felt like I read a solid, complete standalone novel. There were certainly enough twists and turns to keep me entertained and reading, and the ending wasn't fully what I thought would happen, but I wasn't disappointed in it.

I would recommend Unhooked to those who enjoyed Peter Pan and are looking for a new spin on the old classic story. Those who are looking for a quick fantasy read will also enjoy it too, as will anyone who likes fairytale retellings.  


Mobarak Ali said...

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