Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl
How’d you like to spend a nightmarish Groundhog Day with a chaotic group of friends, relentlessly investigating the mysterious death/possible murder of your beloved high school boyfriend, all while simply trying to survive and make it back to real life?

Sounds awful.

But it makes for a good book!

The strength of Neverworld Wake is in the setting and the fantastic characters. The predominant setting is a grand, classic old cliffside mansion house high on some seaside cliffs. However, the book really takes place in the doldrums of the ‘wake’, which is an eleven hour segment of the character’s lives that they must live over...and over...and over...and well, you get the picture. They all have to stay in the ‘wake’ until they vote for one--just one--of them to come back to life. The rest stay dead. And in the ‘wake’, when you are basically immortal and unpunishable by human laws or morals, everything is possible and absolutely nothing matters. Except the vote.

The cast of characters are broken, strange, loyal, selfish, beautiful and terrible all at once--Beatrice, Martha, Whitley, Kipling, and Cannon. The sixth member of the crew was the love of Beatrice’s life before he died. He was Jim; the creative genius, heartthrob, and rock star who’s apparent suicide (yet what really happened?!) sets off the book’s whole chain of events. The creepiest of all the characters is The Keeper, the one who provides the group with information in the ‘wake’ and forever draws them back together to vote.

These five college freshman must keep their sanity, figure out how to maintain their fragile connections, and ultimately determine the actual events on that one fateful night when they lost the one they all loved the most. Though the truth can only save one of them.

As a few of the other reviewers felt, I really enjoyed Neverworld Wake until the last couple of chapters. The mystery fell apart for me a bit in the resolution. Strangely--this takes little away from the overall appeal of the book. It is written quite well with deep descriptions, twisty suspense, page-turning action, tense danger...and best of all is that ever-present fantastic cast of intriguing characters. It was always going to be difficult to end a story like this so I think the conclusion will fascinate some and leave others a little unsatisfied. Anyways, it’s a very fast read and since all you want to do is get the heck out of the ‘wake’ with one of the characters, you’ll surely fly through it just to survive.

I recommend Neverworld Wake for older high school readers and up. It would appeal to boys and girls, however it’s maybe more for the girls since Beatrice mostly steps forth from her tight-knit crew to serve as the main character. There is a little bit of violence, some talk of suicide, and some dark disturbing passages, but nothing that I found overly offensive. I seem to recall an f-bomb in there and maybe some other foul language, though it’s very minor if it even was in there.

I think a good comparison for this book would be The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater. I’ve only read the first of those, yet the tone and action seem a bit similar. So if you know that particular author/series, or are/know of a reader who likes complex, chilling mysteries with a slight sci-fi twist...give Neverworld Wake a try. But take care to hang on to reality if you do!

Happy Reading!