Years ago, I finally made the leap and read the original Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. I was going back to read all the classic children's books I had missed as a child. (Mary Poppins, Wizard of Oz) I was less than thrilled with Peter Pan even though I had loved the Disney film as a child. Peter was too cocky, too arrogant for me. I remember being annoyed by him more than anything. I found myself enjoying the character of Captain Hook quite a bit more, with his focus on manners and his evilness. It seems such a fun juxtoposition.
So when my brother mentioned that I should read Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's Peter and the Starcatchers I wasn't particularly excited. Although I've loved Dave Barry's writing for decades I wasn't sure that I wanted a re-write of the book. But from the moment I opened this chapter book, I was hooked.
The book tells the story of Peter Pan before he becomes Pan. In the beginning we see him as a young orphan, sold off into slavery, and placed on the ship the Never Land. Strange things are afoot on the boat though. There is a young girl (Molly) who is guarding a mysterious trunk. A trunk that makes everyone who touches it happy. The Never Land, the most worthless boat in the world, is carrying a fantastic treasure. And that treasure is being hunted by the ferocious pirate Black Stache (Hook with both hand intact). After mistakenly attacking the wrong ship, Black Stache and his crew finally take the Never Land but before they can grab the trunk, Peter and Molly toss it overboard. Just in time as the boat is destroyed on the rocks of a small island. Peter, Molly, the other orphan boys, Black Stache, and the captain of the Never Land all wash ashore on this small island. From then on it is a race to find the trunk with everyone, including the local natives, hunting for the treasure.
This book is non-stop action from the very beginning with a ton of laughs and some tender moments mixed in. The early chapters cover most of the boat journey which is at times exciting and at time hilarious. I particularly loved Black Stache's secret weapon, "the ladies". But what I really loved was the scenes that take place on the island. This island is what will become Neverland, named after the ship of course. There we get the chance to meet Mister Grin, the gigantic crocodile that will eventually become Hook's nemesis. We meet the mermaids, who are created from fish after having contact with the stuff in the trunk. That is where Peter finally gains immortality and the ability to fly. We see where the lost boys come from and the native tribe that Peter becomes friends with. This is prequel at it's best. We even discover the origins of Tinkerbell.
Barry and Pearson create a fun story but I loved how they tied the story so closely with the original Barrie tale. I mostly enjoyed realizing what part each character would play in the later book. This was a quick read and would make an excellent read-aloud. The writing is wonderful and the characters are interesting. I was impressed by the books treatment of Peter, making him incredibly likable and kind of lost. He is forced into leadership in many ways. Instead of the braggert of Barrie's book, we see a young man who is just trying to do what is best for his lost boys. A wonderful tale and a lot of fun.