The Never is supposed to be Peter Pan all grown up, with the main character Arianna serving as a modern, kick-ass Wendy. She's a modern 26-year-old artist who is engaged to man named John, and takes medication to fight off what are thought of as delusions, but are actually real--memories of a place called The Never and the people and creatures who inhabit it. However, she often forgets to take her medication, and when she does, The Never comes calling until she finally returns.
That's what the book is supposed to be about, and you can certainly read it in that way. It's not a bad fantasy. In its course, Arianna learns how to fly, fights with and against pirates, consorts with mermaids, and changes The Never forever. But let's touch on a few points as to why I don't think it reads like that.
The first is Arianna herself, and also Malachi. They're supposed to be adults, all grown up, and yet they're entirely obsessed with adventures and games. They don't act like adults at all, and have absolutely no comprehension of the consequences of their actions. They're selfish and cruel to everyone they love. Arianna up and abandons her mother, her fiance, and her brand new puppy to go play Peter Pan somewhere. It's completely ridiculous, and made me not like either of them at all. Once Ari started trying to fix things, I regained a bit of respect for her, but I could never like Malachi, who hid things from her that ended up being disastrous, even though he knew they could end up being disastrous, because he was too wrapped up in his "games" to do otherwise.
My other big issue with this was Ari's medication. She takes these little blue pills that apparently cut her off from The Never and anchor her on earth. Which just seemed...weird? Like, why would that exist? They're apparently pills to combat mental illness, so why would they work against something that's actually real? Why wouldn't they jumble up her thoughts and memories of earth as well as of The Never? It doesn't make sense at all. Which brings me to...
I absolutely could not read this as a full-fledged fantasy. I just couldn't. The medication thing completely screwed it up for me, and I ended up reading it as a beautifully-written story of mental illness, manipulation, and abuse instead. That was fascinating. The whole medication thing just didn't make sense to me, and so I had to twist the entire narrative so that it did. Also, if Ari isn't actually visiting The Never, but is in fact just intensely delusional, it would also explain her selfish, erratic behavior.
Circelli's prose itself is absolutely lovely, and I think it's very well crafted in a word-smithing sort of way. I could perfectly imagine The Never and the worlds around it, as well as all of the characters which inhabit it. It was great. I think she does a good job of spinning out the story and working in pertinent details at good points, rather than just dumping it all in your lap at one time. And if you read it as I did, it's even more fabulous, because every single thing in The Never represents some part of Ari's life and why an active imagination might have been spurred on into full-blown delusions. Still, I'm not sure that's how this book is meant to be read, so I'm not sure I can actually give Circelli credit for that. Still, she's definitely a good writer, and I would be interested in reading more of her books.
3.5 stars out of 5. This would probably be higher if I knew exactly how I was supposed to read it. And if I liked Ari.
PS. There's also a suggestion that John's (Ari's fiance) great-grandmother is the original Wendy of Peter Pan, which was cool and a clever little nod to the original story, if I do say so myself.