Douglas Clegg’s NEVERLAND is a terrific coming-of-age (but written for adults) horror story told with heart, humor, and Southern Gothic twists, all of it deeply familiar yet combining to create something original.
Ten-year-old Beau is off to Gull Island with his parents, older twin sisters, and baby brother. Along with his uncle, aunt, and odd cousin Sumter, they converge on The Retreat, Grandma Rowena’s ancestral home. The summer promises heat, boredom, bugs, and plenty of bickering among the grownups. When Sumter tells Beau about the god he’s keeping in an old shed, which opens the way to Neverland, Beau can’t resist. What the children do in the shed feels thrilling but quickly turns nasty. It’s all make-believe, though, right? When it becomes real, Beau must choose between the delicious horrors of Neverland and the unsatisfying but positive normalcy of his family.
This is my first work by Clegg, and I loved it. His writing has been compared to Stephen King’s, and I couldn’t disagree more, which is a great thing for me as a reader. I think Stephen King should be Stephen King, and the rest of us horror writers should have our own voice. Clegg’s storytelling resurrects all the nostalgia of summer family vacations, tedium and snarling family dynamics and small moments of supreme adventure. The characters are especially vividly drawn. The horror elements are well done, emerge organically one little bite at a time, and blend perfectly with a growing Southern Gothic element as the family’s dark secret is revealed. The story drags a little at the end as the author seemed to fight to corral all the cats he’d let loose, but overall, it’s a great story. I’m now curious what else Clegg has up his sleeve, and I may check out another of his books.