Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publishing Date: February 2nd, 2016
Gwen has spent her whole life running from monsters she can’t see. Now, her mom’s neurosis has brought them to London in yet another attempt to escape from a faceless threat. When she is suddenly kidnapped by dark, shadowed beasts and brought to Neverland, Gwen realizes that her mother’s monsters were closer than she could have ever imagined. Gwen must now navigate a world of secrets and lies, where the good ones are evil and fairies aren’t pets.
In the months leading up to the publishing date of Unhooked, I was so excited to read a dark retelling of the overly sweet Peter Pan story. While I’ve never read the original, I was familiar enough with the nuances of the story to be able to appreciate a YA retelling.
As Gwen and her mom, accompanied by Gwen’s friend Olivia, first pull up to their new flat in London, I immediately felt sorry for Gwen. She has a solid head on her shoulders and has managed to create a sense of self despite having made so much sacrifice to help her mom maintain stability. The apartment is shabby and there’s an incredibly frightening mural of a twisted scene from an alternate Peter Pan story in the living room that immediately terrifies her mom; when the landlord tells them to leave the ancient gas-burning lamp on at all costs, I had shivers running down my back. Lisa Maxwell’s first quarter of the book was incredible and I felt utterly surrounded by the descriptive story-telling and world building. Sadly, once she got to Neverland, things started to get superficial. About 75 pages in, the author starts to “explain” the novel away by revealing way too much of the mystery up front and it was like I was being ejected from the depth and enigmatic nature of the plot. From that point on, the story felt incredibly more superficial and less developed.
Gwen’s first experiences of Neverland revolve around her being rescued by the Captain Hook character of this retelling. We later learn his real name is Rowan, and he was hands down the best part of this book. What a great character! His dark nature is perfectly mixed with a strong sense of justice, a love for his crew, and just the right amount of dark humor and sex appeal. I thought it was incredibly unique how Maxwell revealed snippets of Rowan’s story before each of Gwen’s chapters so that the reader can get a deeper understanding who Rowan is and what ultimately motivates him. This was a really good idea, otherwise the romance that he and Gwen share probably would have felt forced. In the Goodreads description of Unhooked, it’s implied that there’s love triangle. Thankfully, there wasn’t one. It’s made pretty clear that Gwen doesn’t trust Pan, even though she doesn’t deny that he has this sense about him that pulls people into spells if they’re not careful. By that point, Gwen had already been influenced enough by the Captain to see through Pan’s honey-dipped words.
Pan is straight up a devil. This is not a spoiler since the description implies that he’s somewhat of a bad boy. I didn’t really connect with him as a villain though. He was sadistic, manipulative, and incredibly self-serving and I was just waiting for him to crash and burn.
As for our heroine, Gwen, I liked her at first but then I found myself growing more and more annoyed with her. When I step back and really observe the choices that Gwen makes and the apparent delay in her ability to piece together facts, this does make sense. All her life she has had to contend with a mother who believed she saw monsters, running from place to place in a poor attempt at staying safe from a threat she never observed. So it would make sense that she didn’t want to react in a similarly paranoid way without all of the facts. Also, the author uses the story of Peter Pan against her characters, so they’re aware of the fairy tale, but not aware of which parts are truths and which parts are lies. It clouded Gwen’s judgment in a way that was both annoying but sensical… which made me even more annoyed! Also, once Gwen learns of the true power she possesses, I hated how she could only summon it if and when she had Rowan’s approval. As though she could only tap into her own strength if he really needed her to, not because she was the one who possessed this magical power. I can’t admire a character whose natural strength hinges upon the approval of a male character…That really irked me.
Olivia, Gwen’s best friend, seemed like a waste of a character; we didn’t really need her in the story. Once Gwen finds herself in Neverland and realizes that Olivia was also kidnapped by the Dark Ones, she fights tooth and nail to get to her and rescue her, but it is clear that Liv is too far under Pan’s spell to be of any use or salvation. Everyone can see it but Gwen (here she goes again with the delay in piecing together facts!) and still she tries and tries to save her. As the reader, Olivia being under a spell the whole time didn’t allow me to connect with her character, and therefore, I couldn’t justify the danger that Gwen was putting herself through to save her. It was as though the author felt that Gwen needed a reason to leave Neverland and get back to London… But what about her mother? The entire story begins because of her mother’s apparent lack of mental stability and yet she is never even a thought in Gwen’s mind. Again, it just seemed as though the author used bits and pieces together in an attempt to create an exciting story. But despite the strong beginning, the novel lacked the real depth that I was hoping for.
Finally, the ending felt extraordinarily illogical. Nothing seemed to go as planned, and thats to be expected in an enchanted island, but this novel’s slight deus ex machina ending seemed convenient and wrong. Gwen uses her power to complete what she needed to in order to return home, but then she realized that she’d been lied to yet again so it didn’t work! It was as though her power was not even useful in her own story. Unfortunately, Unhooked seemed to promise a thrilling fairy tale retelling, but I was mostly disappointed with the logical flow and lack of developed story telling.
Thanks to Simon Pulse for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.