Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Book Review: Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Orphaned kids, Pirate ships with huge brassieres for sails, near escapes, giant flying crocodiles, shipwrecks, mermaids with sharp teeth, massive storms, belch humor, talking porpoises, and bashing the bad guys with coconuts.

What more could you ask?

Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have melded together a wonderful midgrade action fantasy that serves as a long-past prequel for J.M. Barrie's 1911 Peter Pan and Wendy. (Okay, that novel had a few names and I'm using the middle one. Sue me.)

Peter and the Starcatchers begins with five orphan boys being loaded onto a nasty little cargo ship called the Never Land. The oldest is named Peter, and he is the oldest by his own fiat -- any time another boy arrived at the orphanage who claimed to be older, Peter would age-jump until Peter was again the oldest.

Also coming aboard that old ship is a mysterious cargo trunk that seems to affect everyone who gets near it with a strange form of euphoria, and a young girl named Molly, who reacts to Peter's age-jumping in the following scene:

"Well, Mr. Peter Nobody," said Molly. "Do you know how old you are?"

"How old are you?" said Peter.

"I'm twelve," said Molly.

"I'm thirteen," said Peter.

"Wait," said Molly, "I just remembered. Today is my birthday, I'm fourteen."

Peter frowned. "Wait," he said, "if you were twelve, and today is your birthday, you'd be thirteen."

"Not in my family," said Molly. "In my family, we only celebrate even-numbered birthdays."

Peter was impressed, he'd never thought of that.

"I just remembered something myself," he said. "Today is also my birthday, and I am now." he paused dramatically- "sixteen."

"No," said Molly, "Too much. I'll accept fourteen. We'll both be fourteen."

Peter thought about it.

"All right then," he said. "Fourteen."

And there you have the beginning of young love and a massive struggle for survival on the high seas.

Not only are they trapped on a ship run by a very nasty first mate, but their ship is (in good time) about to be set upon by the meanest and scariest pirate on the seven seas, Black Mustache. (Apparently all the Beard color names were taken.) Stache, in the tradition of fine comic villains, has an extremely disposable crew who are highly trained not to think, so that he can order them to do suicidal things and get immediate compliance. For instance, he and a dozen men are being swept out to sea holding onto the sides of a capsized long boat. His only chance, he decides, is to have half the men let go so that the other half can right the boat and bail it. Who cares if the first half drown? He orders it done, and forces compliance.

The men who let go, it turns out, can stand up in the shallow water.

Once they are all back on land, Stache quickly convinces them all that they would be dead if he had not given them that order. And it's true, in a goofy sort of way, so it works, and they again begin responding to his orders.

"Pirates," Stache thinks. "It's a good thing they're idjits."

Now, aside from the fact that the supporting characters are acknowledged "idjits", none of the main characters are. The major characters in this book act in their own best interests, and to the best of their knowledge and abilities. This means that often the characters are attempting things that *should* work, even if they don't happen to. And I won't even begin to describe how many sides there are to the final brawl for the treasure -- for a hint, think Peter Pan's island - mermaids, natives, pirates, Lost Boys, plus the two different sides that seek worldwide control of the magical starstuff, "the Others" and "the Starcatchers".

I absolutely adore this book, and am looking forward to the next two in the series.

1 comment:

the_never_fairy said...

As fun an adventure as this may be, a backstory to Peter Pan is it NOT. For it completely contradicts J.M. Barrie's origin tale of Pan. In fact, it has LOTS of mistakes as compared to Barrie's stories... so much so that it seems like Barry & Pearson never even bothered to read them!

There is a Pan story that's faithful, however:'s even based on Barrie's own idea for more.