Title: Betwixt and Between
Author: Jessica Stilling
Publisher/Publication Date: Ig Publishing, Pub. date Oct. 18, 2013
Betwixt and Between is a very interesting little take on Peter Pan. Ten-year-old Preston, a fairly carefree and happy child, visits his socially awkward man-child neighbor, eats a poison cookie, and dies in the woods of his neighborhood. He awakens in Neverland, which in this particular universe, is where little boys go after they die before moving on to the actual afterlife. The idea seems to be that as long as these boys are in Neverland, their parents/loved ones can still sense them allowing them to grieve more freely? Why this couldn’t happen if they passed on completely wasn’t entirely clear. Neverland also seems to be a place where these boys can come to grips with what has happened to them since they have all died tragically. The island is run by a boy named Peter who is not a real boy and has always lived on the island, except for a small foray into London in pursuit of Wendy. Also on the island are two groups of adults, sometimes Cowboys and Indians, sometimes Knights and Lords, sometimes Cops and Fireman, but always two groups that play fight in neverending battles as they atone for their crimes against children in life, whether those crimes were intentional or not. And of course, Peter Pan would be nothing without Captain Hook and his pirates. These foul characters live on the other side of the island and the boys are strictly forbidden to go by them. While our cops and fireman groups unintentionally injured boys, either through car accidents or simply being an observer and not stopping something, the pirates are those who willfully hurt and killed children. Preston is different from the other boys and we see him as he attempts to come to grips with what happened to him, including the realization that his strange neighbor did not actually kill him. This becomes a much more pressing issue when he best friend Peyton arrives after also having been poisoned by a now unknown serial killer.
Interspersed with Preston’s story are also the stories of his grieving parents and the Wendy from Peter’s story. We begin to understand more of why these other plot lines get so much focus once we realize that Wendy spent time in Neverland while she was in a coma and that Peter managed to leave the island and go to London after Wendy mysteriously disappeared from the island. While there is a certain amount of pathos in being privy to the lives of Preston’s parents as they struggle with their grief and how they can manage to go on in the face of it, the multiple plot lines do slow the book at times. As someone who has experienced how debilitating grief can be, it’s sometimes difficult for me to invest in stories focusing on that. The emotional investment is often more than I am willing to commit to a book. Wendy’s portions of the story do fascinate me because we get some fictional insight into how her time in Neverland and the stories she told after awakening from her coma came to shape J.M. Barrie’s tales of Peter Pan. Stilling does an excellent job keeping the stories running smoothly while still intertwining them. The plotlines are connected but never become confusing or hard to follow, a feat that I always find impressive. Betwixt and Between deals with the death of a child, grief, how communities deal with a senseless tragedy, and how simple interactions between people can have a profound impact on a person. It is a deeply touching novel and one that made me cry in more than one spot. It’s more than worth a read but not one to necessarily be undertaken lightly since much of the plot could be triggering for a reader.