Monday, December 8, 2014

Second Star, by Alyssa Sheinmel

Fairy Tale retellings can be very tricky, particularly ones reworked so they are set in modern day. Sometimes they work (as in Alex Flinn's Beastly), other times not so well. An example of the later is Alyssa Sheinmel's Peter Pan reboot, Second Star

At the opening of this story, we meet recent high school grad and Good Girl Wendy Darling. Wendy's twin brothers (Michael and John), both die-hard surfers, disappeared several months earlier. Pieces of their surfboards were found shortly after a huge swell swept up the coast, creating larger than normal waves (even for winter). Everyone but Wendy believes the boys drowned, even though no bodies were found. So after graduation, Wendy sets off to investigate and see if she can't find her brothers and bring them home. Instead she discovers an almost magical beach where the waves are always perfect. Here lives Pete and a group of homeless teens who spend their days surfing and stealing supplies from nearby McMansions. Wendy lies to her parents, saying she's going on a road trip with her BFF, and moves in with Pete and crew. Wendy develops a crush on the charismatic Pete... But she also falls for Jas, a local bad-boy-who-wants-to-be-good sort. Jas makes a living selling a hallucinogen called "Dust," and claims to know the whereabouts of her brothers. Wendy and Jas take off up the coast, chasing a storm that will bring unseasonably large waves. If Michael and John are anywhere, they'll be there when the waves hit. They find the beach, but not the brothers. Wendy and Jas rendezvous with Pete & Co. and take a boat out to catch the waves...and Wendy almost drowns.

She wakes up days later tied to a bed in the psych ward of the hospital... And here's where things get confusing. 

The reader learns that Wendy was found, bruised but otherwise physically OK, nowhere near the beach she claims to have traveled to with Jas. Her parents and doctors tell her that she must have hallucinated the whole adventure and everyone in it. The reason for this is Wendy apparently took an odd cocktail of drugs that combined to cause her "trip." Evidence suggests otherwise, though. Wendy can suddenly surf like a pro (before she couldn't). And near the end she anonymously receives a photo of the boys she fell for. And this is where the author left things. 

I did like the whole summery, dreamlike quality to the story. And the idea was a good one. Unfortunately, the execution was sloppy. The ending confusing.

Before diving into Second Star, know this: The story does require a good deal of suspension of belief in addition to the typical fairy tale elements. For example, what parents would allow their 17-year-old daughter to take off to do who knows what for weeks at a time--especially one as supposedly unstable as Wendy? Also, it is unclear at the end whether Wendy's whole adventure was imagined (as her parents and doctors claim), really happened (as the photo of Pete and the gang she receives at the end suggests), or a combination of the two. And if the adventure did indeed happen, why did Wendy's family, friends, and doctors tell her otherwise? If they want her to heal properly, wouldn't they be honest with her? Nothing really lines up properly.  Also, if the author wanted to add the "she just imagined the whole thing" twist, it could have been done better. The way it was, it seemed too rushed and, well, cliche.

If you're looking for a good magical realism story, there are better options. Ask the on-duty librarian for recommendations :)


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