Its become very clear that Marisha Pessl is now a MUST author for me. I loved her debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. And while I didn’t have the same immediate feelings for Night Film, that book crept up on me and ended up scaring me more than I thought possible.
With Neverworld Wake, Pessl presents her first YA offering, and it offers a combination of the private school privileged world seen in Calamity Physics and a nightmarish view of human nature, similar to that in Night Film.
Be a lives with her parents in a picturesque seaside town in Rhode Island. She is home from her first year at Emerson College in Boston, and is still recovering from the death of her boyfriend Jim during her senior year at a prestigious prep school, where she was one of just a handful of scholarship students. Since Jim’s mysterious death, Bea has cut herself off from all of her old friends, and just goes about her day to day life at home, scooping ice cream and making french fries in her parents’ cafe.
Bea gets a random text from her former best friend, Whitney, a gorgeous, wealthy, popular girl, asking her to come up to her house for the weekend to celebrate her birthday with all of their friends. At the last minute, Bea decides to go, she needs closure on Jim’s death and figures the best way to get that is to spend some time with all of their friends and talk to them about what happened.
And wow. Bea gets way, way more than she bargained for when she knocks on Whitney’s door.
I’m not going to get into the plot. Its crazy. I didn’t read the book blurb before I started, and I’m glad. I think its best not knowing anything.
Just know this: Pessl is an amazingly talented writer who really understands what it is like to be an outsider. Bea’s life at boarding school, surrounded by the uber wealthy, is nothing like her life at home. The kids she meets have never wanted for anything material in life, and Bea always second guesses herself. Filled with self doubt and obsessed with her first love, Bea is an incredibly relatable character. Until she isn’t. But really, she still is. Makes zero sense, I know.
Pessl also writes a lot about the power of memory, and how it can be a blessing and a curse:
It struck me how no one ever really sees anyone. Memory turns out to be a lazy employee, intent on doing the least amount of work. When a person is alive and around you all the time, it doesn’t bother to record all the details, and when a person is dead, it Xeroxes a tattered recollection a million times, so the details are lost: the freckles, the crooked smile, the creases around the eyes.
I will say this: while the actual ending wasn’t a surprise, the route to get there certainly was. It reminded me of The Life of Pi, where the reader has to make up their own minds about what happened on the lifeboat. Which version of the story was reality? And does it really matter?
I read this book in two sittings and wished it had been 100 pages longer. I can’t wait to see what Pessl comes up with next.
CBR10bingo: Dream Vacation. I’m from New England and would love a summer at a Rhode Island beach town that isn’t Newport. A lazy beach vacation with ice cream and fried food and lazy walks through town sounds pretty good to me right now.