The Land of Neverendings
By Kate Saunders
Published by Faber and Faber
ISBN 978 0 571 33656 1
Kate Saunders is one of the most consistently interesting and inventive contemporary children’s authors. Her last book, Five Children on the Western Front, which continued the exploits of the main characters from E. Nesbit’s classic Five Children and It (1902), was a deserving winner of the Costa Children’s Book Award in 2014.
Her latest novel is a deeply moving story about how imagination can help the healing process after the traumatic death of someone we love. That makes The Land of Neverendings sound like a sombre read, but in fact it is a wonderful, often laugh-aloud funny, sometimes heartbreaking, thrilling novel with Saunders’ wit, compassion and creativity evident on every page.
Before Holly died, she and her sister Emily were very close. Now Emily is confused, lonely and bereft. Her parents are dealing with the tragedy in their own ways; and Emily’s school friends are embarrassed by what happened and don’t know how to talk about it.
One of the millions of things the two sisters enjoyed doing together was making up stories about Bluey, Holly’s teddy bear. Bluey lived in the imaginary land of Smockeroon, where he had all sorts of adventures. Bluey was Holly’s constant companion, and Emily loved making up stories about him to entertain her sister.
Now Bluey is gone too, cremated along with Holly. So the stories have stopped. All this is almost too much for Emily to deal with. The only person who seems to understand the immensity of the grief Emily feels is Ruth, a kind neighbour whose son died when he was little.
One night, two stuffed toys, a penguin and a bear, appear in Emily’s bedroom – and they can talk. They tell her they have a message from Bluey, who is now in Smockeroon. What could Bluey want? And Smockeroon doesn’t exist – or does it?
The bear, Smiffy, and penguin, Hugo, lead Emily to a secret doorway between Smockeroon and “the hard world”. On the other side awaits a madcap world where humans who have left the hard world are reunited with their childhood toys.
Like Wendy in Neverland, and the Pevensie kids when they step into Narnia from the back of a wardrobe, nothing makes sense to Emily – at first. But soon, she starts to realises exactly why Smockeroon exists and how her adventures there will help her when she returns to the hard world.
Saunders expertly mixes together real, human themes with children’s fantasy. The Land of Neverendings is highly recommended for pre-teen and teenage readers, and for adults as well; after all, the Land Of Neverendings is a very special place to visit, no matter how old you are.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org