Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2013 Contenders: Neversink, by Barry Wolverton

One thing I think we can all agree on: puffins are funny. With their awkward walk, missile-shaped bodies, and confrontationally bright beaks, they seem to have been designed by a team of comedians willing to do anything for a laugh.

One thing puffins are not, however, is heroic. Lockley J. Puffin is no exception, but his curiosity and his willingness to speak out against injustice force him further and further into this unwanted role despite his best efforts. His island, Neversink, is being forcibly oppressed by a group of owls, headed by a tyrannical pygmy owl named Rozbell. Most of the puffins and other auks would rather submit than resist, but Lockley, with help from a walrus named Egbert, a hummingbird named Ruby, and the Great Auk himself, is determined to make things right – and protect the safety of Lucy, his mate, and their unborn child.

The world of Neversink is a richly-realized blend of Norse mythology, surreal humor, and Watership Down-style fantasy. Creating a memorable fantasy setting is no mean feat, especially for a debut author, but Barry Wolverton manages it. The prose itself is also marvelous. The scene in which Lockley comes face to face with the sea goddess Sedna, in particular, is truly lovely, reaching a sort of prose poetry that shows up all too infrequently in children’s literature.

I did wonder if the political intrigue and historical in-jokes would be of interest to a juvenile audience, though that was more noticeable at the beginning of the book. And, while Lockley himself is a fully three-dimensional character, not everyone in the book is quite as well-rounded. Rozbell, in particular, is an effective villain, but one without much depth. The setting and the hero, however, largely make up for any such shortcomings.

With the number of excellent books that have already been published so far, I’m not sure you’ll see Neversink in the ALA awards come January. But I’d highly recommend it for any readers with interests in fantasy, animal novels, or mythology.

Published in March through Walden Pond Press / HarperCollins.

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