Cover of Neverworld Wake, with a girl's face rising out of the water in the distance like a mountain

About the Book

Title: Neverworld Wake
Published: 2018
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Cover Story: Mt. Big Face
BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: Masterful
Bonus Factors: Mystery, Time Travel
Relationship Status: Til Death Do Us Part

Cover Story: Mt. Big Face

Full disclosure: it took me several days after I began reading this book to realize that the mountain on the cover was actually a girl’s face. (It’s like one of those Magic Eye posters–now that I’ve seen it, I can’t not see it.) There are a hundred ways this concept could’ve gone horribly wrong–especially since we’re talking about a YA cover–but I actually find this artwork to be pretty cool and certainly compelling.

The Deal:

Just before the end of her senior year at boarding school, Beatrice Hartley’s boyfriend, Jim Mason, went missing. His body was found two days later in a nearby quarry, and while the police eventually ruled it a suicide, Beatrice is tortured by the unresolved nature of his death, so much so that she exiles herself from her friends and anything that could trigger memories of Jim.

Now, a year later, she’s home from college for the summer when she receives a text from her old bestie, Whitley Lansing, inviting her to a party at Wincroft, the family estate. Beatrice sees this night as an opportunity to finally find out what happened to Jim, but it requires facing her old gang–Whitley, the supermodel who constantly slips into Latin; Kipling St. John, the gay Southern gentleman; Cannon Beecham, the ambitious hacker; and Martha Ziegler, the physics genius obsessed with an underground fantasy novel called The Dark House of Elsewhere Bend. (How great are all of these names, btw?) Things have changed between them all, for obvious reasons, but before Beatrice can start asking questions, a strange old man shows up at the front door…

Aaaaand that’s all you need to know before diving into this book! (Trust me, don’t read anything else about it. The rest of this review will be vague when it comes to plot, so you can continue reading this.)

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

Beatrice is a hard gal to get to know, even when you’re inside her head. While her good-hearted nature certainly stands out, her timidity might make her seem boring–when in fact, she’s startlingly imaginative. She can see the romance in working at her parent’s restaurant, a seaside cafe in Rhode Island called the Captain’s Crow, even when she’s covered in grease, and she’ll spend hours crafting dream soundtracks–detailed albums, with lyrics and drawings, for movies that never existed. Her creativity and compassion are admirable, but I think it’s her feelings of being ordinary that so endeared me to her. Because girl is far from it, and I wanted very badly to tell her that.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Seen in flashbacks, Jim, the eccentric composer, and Beatrice, the quiet new girl, are instantly drawn to each other in a wave of enchantment, and it doesn’t take long for the latter to fall head over heels. Their relationship is epic, but they both carry secrets, and in an effort to avoid spoilers, let’s just say that swoon is clearly not a priority in this tale (and that is a-okay!). 

Talky Talk: Masterful

Y’all, I can’t even with how talented Marisha Pessl is. Her first two books blew my mind, but they’re adult literature, so when I heard she was writing a young adult novel, I wasn’t sure how it would read–though I knew it would be amazing. I was not wrong! Turns out, the only difference is the age of characters and the length. Her storytelling remains intricate and artful, laying a foundation of seemingly unrelated pieces, each fascinating in their own right, before clicking them into place to form a whole that will take your breath away. The plot of Neverworld Wake is daring to say the least, but it’s the characters she’s crafted that really make this book intensely dynamic–their imprints, seared into your mind, will linger like ghosts long after you’ve turned the last page. 

There are a zillion passages I could share with you that exemplify her powerful, tantalizingly rich writing, but I’ll limit myself to just a few (which is crazy hard!). First, here are two descriptions of people so you can see exactly what I mean about the vibrancy of her characters:

I’d always found it enviable–that Whitley could be so beautiful and smart, and on top of that so unconcerned about causing a scene or curbing her biblical emotions. It seemed unfairly glamorous, like she was the untamable heroine of a Victorian novel. (Even the oft-gossiped-about phrase around school–Lansing’s temper–sounded gorgeously bygone, like the name of an exotic illness with no cure.)

He was beautiful in the unlikely way of some eighteenth-century hero galloping across moors on horseback: six foot three, honey-brown stare, uncombed black hair, cockeyed smile. But there was something else too. He was alive. If life force is a river’s current, Jim’s was so strong it could take off your fingers. He charged through an ordinary Monday as if he had been tasked with imparting a crucial secret about existence before Tuesday. He was a goofball, grandmaster of the Catchy Tune, the Double Entendre, the Shock Romantic Gesture…

I can’t even use my words to describe her words because like, WOW.

Of course, her writing can also perfectly capture scenes and emotions, whether with whipsmart precision like this:

The end of my freshman year at Emerson College had just come and gone with the indifferent silence usually reserved for a going-out-of-business sale at the mini-mall. 

Or with a delicate lushness, like this:

The sun was setting. It had turned the bold orange of children’s paintings, and it was casting a warmth on our faces so gentle it seeped into us, filling every dark hole and lighting ever corner… There was a momentary stillness, a sense of the eternal in the strands of our laughter like windblown ponytails, in the touch of our shoulders, side by side. 

So, like, yeah. Marisha Pessl is a wizard. 

Bonus Factor: Mystery

Nancy Drew creeping up an old stone staircase with her flashlight

Jim’s death is wrapped up in dark, juicy layers of intrigue involving (again, I’m keeping it vague here) skeletons in family closets, covert relationships and a campus drug dealer/bogeyman called the White Rabbit. So you can imagine that it is incredibly satisfying to eventually learn the truth (which I never stood a chance of guessing).

Bonus Factor: Time Travel

A group of teens huddled together with light swirling around them and a city on the horizon, in a scene from Project Alamanac

All I will say is that this book features a wrinkle in time, and Pessl plays with it in ways that range from amusing to jaw-dropping. 

Relationship Status: Til Death Do Us Part

From the moment we met, I was a goner. Neverworld Wake consumed me and electrified me and legit ravished me, and our time together left my head spinning and my heart pounding. But it’s more than just a rush–this book made a meaningful impact on me, and I’ll yearn to be in its company for the rest of my days. 

Literary Matchmaking

Night Film

If you haven’t read Marisha Pessl’s other books, GET ON THAT. Special Topics in Calamity Physics also features a mystery and teenage protagonist, while Night Film will give you some major heebie jeebies.

People Like Us

In the mood for another tale of boarding school murder? Check out People Like Us by Dana Mele.


Belzhar is another YA novel beautifully written by an adult lit author (Meg Wolitzer) that also explores a unique wrinkle in time.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy from Delacorte Press. I received neither cocktails nor money for this review (dammit).

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.