Unhooked

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Unhooked Book Poster Image
Gory, monster-filled fantasy romance best for genre fans.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Unhooked joins a long parade of Peter Pan spin-offs, using variations on many of the well-known characters, locations, and situations for its own, much darker story. A parallel narrative that begins each chapter deals with a character caught up in World War I, and includes historical detail (e.g. white feathers presented to "cowards," mustard gas in the trenches).

Positive Messages

What with all the killings, life-force-sucking, hacking, slashing, and stabbing, as well as the hallucinations and magically induced forgetfulness, the moral universe here is pretty murky.  There's a strong message of trying to keep your loved ones safe -- in a world where there's probably no such thing as safe.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Narrator/protagonist Gwen starts as a believable 17-year-old who's fed up with her mom's crazy behavior, then faces dangers she's never imagined when she and her BFF are abducted. Despite not knowing who (if anyone) she can trust, and not always being in her right mind, she tries to make good choices and protect the ones she loves. Her mom, who may not be so crazy after all, has gone to extreme lengths to protect Gwen from monsters who might not be so imaginary after all. Both of them, while often forced to make what they hope is the least evil choice, are quick to sacrifice themselves for the good of those they love. Many characters have gone over to the side of evil.

Violence

Sea monsters, faeries, warring tribes, and supernatural diseases result in lots of gore, dead bodies in various states of decay, etc. Many characters, including the "Hook" figure, have missing limbs. Both male lead characters survive by consuming the life force of their victims; one of them sexualizes the process and promises to "make it good" for his prospective victim. There's a lot of ethical hand-wringing about whether this behavior is justified. A character commits suicide to protect another. A character forces another (who pees his pants in terror) to walk the plank, after which the victim is quickly devoured by a sea monster. Teen characters are abducted to an alternate world and face many dangers.

A typical passage:

"Gasping for air, I stumble to my knees, and when I turn to look up, I see what's caused him to release me -- he's been stabbed. The tip of a dark blade protrudes from his belly. Around it, blood blooms. His shaking hands grab at the blade, like he's trying to push it back through, but it's too late. His body gives a violent jerk as someone else pulls at the blade, and blood gurgles from his mouth as his knees give out and he falls to the deck."

Sex

A few kisses, some passionate. One scene that's apparently a seduction is actually a predator consuming his victim's life force. Male and female characters sleep together for warmth. Mostly, though, the romantic elements of the story find expression in heated, somewhat clichéd language, e.g.:

"'Leaving so soon, lass?' he croons into my right ear, all confidence and rough masculine charm. The warmth of his breath brushes across my neck, and the scent of him surrounds me as completely as his arms. I have the uneasy feeling that he knows exactly what his proximity is doing to me. That he's completely aware of the way my traitorous heart has kicked into a gallop and my skin has gone hot and cold all at once.

"I'm too nervous and taken off guard by my reaction to him to resist when he turns me gently, until my back is to the door and his face is mere inches above mine."

Language

"Christ!" "arse," "bloody," "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drunken revelry occurs among teen and younger boys.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Unhooked, by Lisa Maxwell, is a dark twist on the Peter Pan story starring 17-year-old Gwen in Neverland, but it's but not the familiar place of childhood tales. Here, both the "Peter Pan" and "Captain Hook" characters are crazy-attractive teen boys who survive by consuming the life force of their victims; violent deaths are plentiful, by suicide, stabbing, hacking, slashing, devouring, and magic, as are vivid descriptions of the gore. Literally and psychologically, the ground is constantly shifting under protagonist/narrator Gwen's feet as she tries to save herself and her best friend, while trying to decide which of the two charming, murderous boys is less likely to betray her. Some language ("arse," "bloody," "hell," "Christ!") shouldn't be problematical to most high-school-age readers, but this version of the Peter Pan myth may be too dark for some.

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What's the story?

All her life, 17-year-old Gwen has been uprooted every time her artist mom becomes convinced they're being pursued by monsters. When the latest episode lands them in a spooky old house in London, her only comfort is that her best friend, Olivia, is staying for a couple of weeks. But on the first night in the new house, both girls are abducted by terrifying beings to different parts of a strange, magical world. It's Neverland, but not one that J.M. Barrie or Walt Disney would recognize. Struggling with hallucinations and forgetfulness, Gwen soon realizes that her mom's fears were all too well founded, and tries to figure out who, if anyone, in this threatening, violent world, she can trust to help her and Olivia get home. Especially since both the "Peter Pan" and "Captain Hook" figures are charming, murderous, and full of secrets.

Is it any good?

Lisa Maxwell offers an intriguing premise in her violent, magic-drenched version of Neverland, which quickly comes UNHOOKED from the original as teen heroine Gwen struggles against evil forces. The first-person, present-tense narrative will grab many readers, especially those who like their romantic tales on the dark side. But heads up: There's a lot of gore, and much dwelling on the details, as the body count rises; some scenes find hero and heroine slogging through piles of corpses.

Some will find the cosmology and world-building a bit uneven, as critical facts and characters sometimes get superficial treatment, while others will love Gwen's courage and determination to do right, despite magical forces and swoon-worthy but murderous boys..

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Peter Pan story -- why do you think people keep going back to it and making up their own versions? What do you learn by comparing some of the variations?

  • Why do you think tales of changelings -- children taken from one world to another, while a child from the other world takes their place -- have been so popular over the centuries? What other examples do you know?

  • Pick one of your favorite childhood stories and write your own version with the same world and characters.

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