It seems as though more than half of the trade paperback books on the horror shelf at the bookstore nowadays are reprints of an older version, much like the plethora of re-makes that we see in horror cinema. However, this is not the same thing at all, as books do not change, they are merely reborn. Neverland by Douglas Clegg was originally printed in 1991. It seems as though most of his books have been out of print for a while, but they are making a comeback, and it is easy to see why.
Neverland contains the basic elements of a horror plot: damaged families, a creepy disturbed kid, magic, suspense, gore, monsters and other such ingredients, but Clegg combines them into a recipe that was entertaining, suspenseful, and most importantly: different. Neverland is not scary in a thrilling way, but rather it creeps into your mind in a very insidious manner, and settles into your thoughts as you read. After you finish a chapter you are left with a deep unease, flickering thoughts that something isn’t quite right, and it tugs at your mind like a fish hook. Perhaps what is most unsettling is how young the main characters are, and how innocent they should be.
Neverland is about summer time and family trips, growing up and understanding the world, love and hate, and how horrible and terrifying all of that can be. The main characters are in that gray area between child and adult, and Clegg is able to summon up the confused and frightened feelings from those ages perfectly. Sex is mysterious, thrilling and confusing, youth is cherished while age is rejected, and family is both pure and contaminated all at once. Neverland is a brilliant metaphor for the changes that we all go through as we become adults, and how the choices that we make resonate throughout the rest of our lives.
The story centers on a family that is falling apart at the seams, an isolated island house, a child with a terrifying secret, and a dark, hungry god that demands to be fed. Sacrifices and blood oaths are fairly standard practice in the horror genre, but when children, some as young as ten years old, use them, it strikes a wholly different nerve. There is something intrinsically wrong about children drinking blood and something just as creepy about them giggling in the dark, but the way that Clegg writes makes the giggling far more unnerving than the blood. The images that Clegg painted will stay in the back of my mind for a long time to come, and I welcome it. It is rare that I find a story that unsettles me, as I have been reading horror for nearly fifteen years now, but Clegg is a breath of fresh air, and I look forward to seeing more of his reprinted novels sitting on the shelves.
Neverland is a dark, vivid novel that grabs your attention from the start. The first chapter is four sentences long, and is one of the best openings to a novel that I have ever read. It is chilling and leaves you with a huge desire to keep reading, which is one of the finest compliments that a writer can receive, and Clegg maintains that drive throughout the book. The end of each chapter was so well done that I could not only picture the scene; I could see it fade to black before opening on the next. Clegg’s words have a clarity that is not easily matched by any author I have read, and I highly recommend picking up the novel. There is a damn good reason why it was reprinted, and you will not be disappointed.