Peter and the Starcatchers: A Book Review

I just finished reading Peter and the Starcatchers, the first in a series of four books by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson which describe how Peter became Peter Pan. They are prequels to the classic tale by Sir J.M. Barrie. If the first novel is any indication, the series deserves a place in Peter Pan lore.

Peter and the Starcatchers grabs the reader from the first sentence and does not let go. With a breathtaking pace, the authors weave multiple characters, situations, and motives throughout the narrative, quickly developing a complex, heart-breaking, hilarious, and compassionate tale of boyhood in the late 19th century, sans parents or adults who care. Until it is too late.

The image in the post is taken from a poster promoting the movie Peter Pan. It wonderfully captures the essence of the boy who would not grow up. Like any good character, Peter has backstory which fleshes out his enigmatic persona. Peter and the Starcatchers explores that story, adding depth and pathos to an already compelling protagonist.

While many people perceive Peter to be happy-go-lucky and in need of a good spanking, this novel establishes a difference nuance to his character. Yes, he is a boy. He loves to have fun. He thrills in flight and to live to fight another day against the evil pirate Captain Hook. His dealings with adults had mostly been negative through no fault of his own. He is an orphan who was sold into slavery before the events of this book liberated him and his companions from that unjust destiny.

I don’t think he needs a spanking or any other kind of beating common among 19th century orphanages in England. At least, not at the hands of yet another adult who has not taken the time to care for him or love him. I think he needs love, the love he was deprived of from infancy. In a way, he found it in the context of his band of friends who chose to follow him rather than return to England and a life of uncertainty as orphans themselves.

Reading this story reminds me of boys and girls I meet in the city. For much of the day many of them are left to their own devices. Some–not all– practically raise themselves due to parents who seem distracted by other priorities.

I have witnessed the yelling and anger that specific children endure from their parents. No wonder they are angry, too.

Likewise, it should come as no surprise that Peter did not want to grow up. His story, obviously fictional fantasy as it is, touches something deep within us. How else could it reach such an epic status in our cultural consciousness? A child Robin Hood of sorts, Peter Pan causes us to remember the joys of our own childhood. Or at least, he does so for me.

Epic moments full of wonder. Yes, I have stories to tell. Some hilarious. Others full of delight. The essence of childhood. There were struggles, but I remember most that I was blessed with a family who loved me.

That is all that Peter and his friends ever wanted. It escaped them until they were deposited in Neverland where they found a semblance of it. There, they had each other.  

Peter and the Starcatchers is written for children at least ten years old. I found it to be one of the best written novels I have experienced in recent memory. I highly recommend it with the caveat that it does have several scenes of violence and threats of violence. While no bad language is used (other than “idjit” for idiot), there is imagery which causes the reader to perceive the evil of pirates and other assorted dangers. Sensitive children might be better off waiting to read this series.

Oh, and just in case you wondered, I bought this book and its companions with my own money.

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