Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, illustrations by Greg Call

*Reviewer’s Note: obviously, there isn’t a movie version of this book (yet, anyway – they’re supposedly working on one, which will probably be terrible but I’ll save that rant for later) so I’m going to tag this book as The Movie Is Better because I can’t be bothered to create a tag just for The Stage Adaptation Is Better.*

First, Some Background: (for review of actual book, please skip ahead to paragraph four) In the spring of 2011, I spent four days in New York with three of my college friends. As we are all giant theater dorks, our sole objective was to see as many shows as we could for as cheaply as possible (a feat we accomplished quite spectacularly, thank you verra much). One of my friends, the the giantest theater dork of us all, had heard fantastic things about an off-Broadway show called Peter and the Starcatcher, and convinced us that we had to venture away from Times Square in order to see it. After a subway adventure and waiting nervously to see if we got stand-by tickets for the sold-out show, we got in.

And oh my sweet baby Jesus, it was the best thing I have ever seen on stage, ever. EVER. It was funny and touching and exciting and sad and fucking hilarious. Almost all the props, scenery, and special effects were created by the actors, which made the whole show look like something being performed in an attic by a bunch of neighborhood kids (which, really, is the only way a Peter Pan story should be performed). (see the show’s website here for an idea of what it looked like) The cast was amazing, the script was perfect, and it was alternately funny and heartbreaking. My point is, the show is the sole reason I read this book, and I knew going into it that the book had no chance of being as good as the play, so I wasn’t even that disappointed when I turned out to be right.

JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, while amazing, left a lot of unanswered questions. How did Peter get to the island? Who taught him to fly? Where did the pirates come from? How did Peter and Tinkerbell meet? Why, if fairy dust allows people to fly, is Peter the only one who can fly without it?

Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson took these questions and used them to write a Peter Pan origin story, and it’s much, much cooler than it sounds. Peter starts out as an orphan, along with several of his friends from the orphanage, being put on a ship and sent across the ocean to work as servants for an evil king. Also on the ship is Molly, a girl who knows more than she’s telling about a mysterious trunk with magical properties being kept below deck. In pursuit of the ship, and the magic, is the pirate Black Stache. Did I mention that the ship Peter is placed on is called the Never Land? Oh yes, I see what you did there.

It all makes for a fast-paced, fun pirate adventure with lots of action and humor (not as funny as the play, I have to admit). The characters are all great, especially Molly, who despite fulfilling the usual Girl Character In An Adventure Story jobs like being held hostage and getting rescued, is still perfectly capable and intelligent, and also gets to do her fair share of the rescuing. And she speaks Porpoise, which was never not funny.

My only gripe about the book, really, is that the authors seem oddly intent on making connections between the book and the animated Disney version of Peter Pan instead of Barrie’s original. Characters from the movie are described in the book as looking just like their animated counterparts: Peter has bright red hair, Black Stache (who becomes Hook) has curly black hair and a long mustache, and Smee is described wearing the same outfit he wears in the movie. The last straw was Tinkerbell, who in this version was originally a bird (it makes sense, I promise) that had a green body and a bright yellow head. However, this annoying aspect might not have actually been the authors fault: given that the publishing information at the beginning of the book loudly proclaims that this is a DISNEY EDITIONS book, I imagine the publishers prodded the authors to include some stuff that would tie the book into the animated movie.

This was a fun book, although vastly different from the (superior) stage version. I could go into all the differences, but frankly this review is long enough and I’m not sure anyone actually cares that much. The point is, the book is a fun adventure story that is actually a really well-done prequel to Peter Pan, but if you get a chance to see the play, you absolutely should.

Okay, one more thing about the play: here are two lines that I remember and wanted to share.

First, from Captain Stache to Smee: “Oh Smee. How flat and unprofitable the world must look from the deck of your HMS Cynic.”

And here’s what Molly said to Peter when they said goodbye, in a scene that made the whole damn theater cry like babies: “It’s supposed to hurt. That’s how you know it meant something.”

Excuse me, I seem to have something in my eye.

Verdict: four out of five stars

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