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Grab Your Vaudeville Hook

Lisa Maxwell crafts us a sexy, tragic hero in Hook, but, alas, doesn’t bring the swoon in her Pan retelling, Unhooked.

Grab Your Vaudeville Hook

BOOK REPORT for Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell

Cover Story: Pretty as a Painting
BFF Charm: Nay
Swoonworthy Scale: +4, -3
Talky Talk: Slippery When Wet
Anti-Bonus Factor: Damsel in Distress
Relationship Status: Walk the Plank

Cover Story: Pretty as a Painting

As I’m still fairly new here, there’s a wealth of information we have yet to discover about one another. So here’s something y’all don’t know about me: I love paintings of ships at sea. If we ever go to a museum together, I will be spending most of my time dawdling by a landscape scene, a high relief sculpture, or a ship in a storm painting. I got lucky that I married a guy who sails and loves all things boats (or rather, he got lucky he married me, since I have final say over home decor).

So I guess what I’m saying is, this cover can do no wrong in my eyes. Even if you aren’t predisposed to love this like I do, I think it evokes enough of the wildness of Neverland and an (obvious) nod to Captain Hook's ship to make it a good fit.

The Deal:

Gwendolyn’s mom has kept them on the move her entire life, uprooting their lives whenever she feared the “monsters” chasing them were getting too close. Their latest move takes Gwen from LA to London, and at this point she’s had about enough of living like a nomad, putting up with her crazy mom, and abandoning any fragile friendships she’s maintained (like with Olivia, who tagged along to help Gwen settle into her new place). But moping about her situation is temporarily interrupted when the girls are kidnapped in the middle of the night and brought to Neverland—and, let me tell you, they don’t come over by way of a little fairy dust and a song.

Suddenly Gwen is confronted with things that she never believed could be real: her mom may actually not be crazy after all, Neverland is not just a fictional world from a kid’s story, and she is inexplicably wrapped up in a decades-old power struggle between Peter Pan and Captain Hook. 

BFF Charm: Nay

The nature of Neverland means that you begin to lose your sense of self until all you remember is your time in Neverland and nothing from before you arrived. This does not typically lend itself to a fully fleshed out character, but, with some creativity, that could’ve been a non-issue. Unfortunately for Gwen, there was nothing compelling about her personality that made her stand out; she felt like every generic YA heroine who stumbles into a fantastical world and must piece together what’s going on in order to survive.

She also started veering into Too Stupid To Live territory when she kept waffling on who to trust. It was never a question for the reader, and her confusion felt disingenuous since we were in her first-person perspective the entire time. She should’ve been picking up on the social cues she herself was describing.  

Swoonworthy Scale: +4, -3

I’m giving +4 to Rowan for being a decently layered Hook villain. He’s also loyal, a strong leader, and tall, dark, and handsome. The points just create themselves.

But -3 is taken away due to the insta-attraction and subsequent insta-love that occurs, because it’s just lazy and, frankly, boring when there’s no build-up. Combine that with Gwen being a one-note character, and it left their love affair as flat as a calm sea.

Talky Talk: Slippery When Wet

The book started off with promise, floating swiftly along on a clear premise, but then it hit the waterfall’s edge and fell right off, scattering ideas and dashing the plot all over the rocks. There wasn’t enough background detail for me to really understand everyone’s motivations, and that made the last third of the book very murky.

At one point a character threatens to take control of Neverland and then turn their evil focus to our world—but…why? Being in charge of Neverland itself seems to be the primary objective. This point is dropped and never mentioned again. Similarly, I was led to expect to learn more about Gwen’s father (who supposedly left her and her mom for their protection), but that thread is also left dangling. There were many questions like this that, if answered, could’ve made for tighter execution and better storytelling all around.

We also get a secondary tale playing out at the beginning of each chapter, doled out a paragraph at a time. It gives us the background of a certain character, but it didn’t feel like it brought anything special to the novel, or even tied in thematically with the chapters themselves. The character eventually spills their history to Gwen anyway, so I didn’t see the need for the extended version.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Damsel in Distress

I think the most frustrating thing about this book was Gwen’s friend, Olivia. From the jacket blurb, I inferred that she and Gwen would be facing the dangers of Neverland together. Instead, they are quickly separated after their kidnapping, and Olivia is missing from most of the book. She’s an afterthought plot point at the best of times and a vapid, brainwashed bobblehead at the worst. The resolution to her storyline was deeply unsatisfying.

Casting Call:

Samaire Armstrong as Gwen

Gwen has short blonde hair and sometimes annoyed me (sorry, Samaire, but Anna from The O.C. got on my nerves at times), so this was a perfect fit.

Younger Colin O'Donoghue as Captain Hook

Maybe this choice is a little lazy, or maybe ABC just did all the heavy lifting for me and picked a perfect go-to sexy Captain Hook.

Robbie Kay as Peter Pan

Ditto, except replace “sexy Captain Hook” with “murderously evil man-child”.

Indiana Evans as Olivia

Olivia is beautiful and blonde, and Indiana fits the mold.

Relationship Status: Walk the Plank

Book, if you gave me the choice to join your crew or take my chances with the Sea Hags, I think I'd rather walk the plank. It’s not that you would be a horrible captain, but I’d rather see what else is out there for me. It could be worse, but it could also be much, much better.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Simon Pulse. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Unhooked is available now.

Stephanie Johnston's photo About the Author: Stephanie is an avid reader who moonlights as a college Educational Advisor. Though she now calls Orlando home, she grew up all over the U.S. Aside from her obsession with YA books and book-related activities, Stephanie loves watching way too much television, reading organizational/DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.