Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux on May 13th, 2014
Shelve It: Goodreads
A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers.
Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward his nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she’s falling hard for Pete.
A radical reinvention of J. M. Barrie’s classic tale, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up—and the troubled beauty trapped between them.
*I received an eARC from the publisher, through NetGalley, for review purposes.
Second Star held me completely enraptured until the halfway mark, where it ventured in a direction I not only didn’t understand, but didn’t appreciate. While the ending was successful in restoring some of my initial adoration, it also left me with more questions than answers. So while I devoured Second Star in one sitting and I want nothing more than to sing its praises, I have to hold back because of its one, glaring shortcoming.
Wendy Darling reminded me a lot of, well, Wendy Darling. Bright-eyed and optimistic, she was determined to prove that everyone else was wrong about her missing brothers, and that they were merely that – missing. Fearless, especially when others weren’t paying attention, and inquisitive, Wendy knew the best way to figure out the truth behind her brothers’ disappearances was to immerse herself in the life they were living before they went missing. I loved her devotion to her brothers, and how she stuck to her convictions despite the protests of her friends and family, and how she berated herself for getting sidetracked by the charismatic Pete.
While I didn’t fall for Pete in the way I had hoped I would, I still found that a small part of me lived for the moments he and Wendy spent together: the way he seemed to light up whenever Wendy was near, the way he seemed encouraged to be a better person because of Wendy’s presence, and the way he seemed to cherish Wendy and how much more she made their home feel like a home. Despite being a teenaged boy, Pete also managed to have this air of impermanence about him, and he had both the light-heartedness of Pan, as well as the lurking darkness; while it rarely was brought to the surface, you could feel that there was a past which haunted Pete that he didn’t like to think about.
I also really enjoyed how Sheinmel incorporated the Lost Boys and Tinkerbell into Second Star, having Pete claim an abandoned housing project on the cliffs as his home for runaways and refugees. It took me a while to realize who Belle was meant to represent, but as soon as I clued in, her animosity towards Wendy made so much more sense! I also loved how Sheinmel captured Tinkerbell’s flightiness, by making Belle quick to run away to surf whenever she became uncomfortable or angry with a situation. I do wish the Lost Boys had had more of a presence though, as it was only through a couple short scenes that we got to see them interact with, and grow to love Wendy.
Aside from the characters, Second Star was doing a fabulous job of keeping my attention by perfectly capturing the carefree attitude of the California surfer scene. Living each moment for the next perfect wave, feeling at home with sand between your toes and in your sheets, and capturing that thrill of weightlessness that comes from
flying surfing, Second Star managed replaced the magic and wonder of Neverland with the love and respect surfers have for the ocean, in a way where it felt like the ocean was magical. Pete and Wendy had carved out their own version of Neverland in Kensington, and it felt like they were somehow removed from this world; like they were privy to this special place, reserved just for them.
But while Second Star succeeded with so much, it was the direction it took just past the halfway mark where it lost me. View Spoiler » Up until the halfway mark, there was nothing to suggest that what Wendy had been experiencing wasn’t real; there was nothing to suggest that she had been hallucinating her experiences; there was absolutely nothing to suggest Wendy was an unreliable narrator. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good unreliable narrator. What I don’t like is the complete 180 the direction of the story took, with absolutely no warning that we were heading in that direction. There were no experiences that Wendy had that didn’t make sense; there was no timeline that didn’t add up properly; there were no events which transpired which were so fantastical as to be unbelievable. And all the people who claimed that Wendy was hallucinating things? They had absolutely no explanation for where she had been for the last two or three weeks, other than that she must have been high on drugs somewhere. « Hide Spoiler It just didn’t make any sense. And I’m not going to bother talking about Wendy’s romance with Jas. It came out of left field and it was his declaration of love, after the unfortunate plot twist, that made me want to DNF Second Star, despite being more than three-quarters of the way done.
With an open-ending that can be left up to interpretation, and I’m choosing to believe what makes me like the book better, Second Star had so much potential that was left unfulfilled because of a random twist that felt completely unnecessary. Fortunately I enjoyed the characters and the atmosphere enough to still say that, overall, I enjoyed Second Star, despite being unhappy with its dodgy middle bits.