Friday 22 January 2016

Reviewed by Arianne: Never Evers by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison.

Product details:
Publisher: Chicken House.
Paperback, 268 pages.
Release date: January 7th 2015.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: 13+
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

Kicked out of ballet academy and straight into a school ski trip, Mouse knows certain classmates can't wait to see her fall flat on her face. Meanwhile, Jack looks forward to danger and girls, but hasn't a clue about either. That's until French teen sensation Roland arrives in the resort - who Jack's a dead ringer for. When Roland persuades Jack to be his stand-in for a day, Jack, in disguise, declares his feelings for Mouse. But what happens when he's no longer a pop star - will it be music and magic on the slopes?

 From the writing duo behind 2015’s wildly popular Lobsters comes an endearing, laugh-out-loud tale of teenage chaos and bashful charm. Never Evers has all the drama and disaster of classic light-hearted teen fiction – think Karen McCombie or Non Pratt but with the added pandemonium of a school trip and ski slopes. 

Faced with the news that she hasn’t made the cut after two years away at ballet academy, fourteen-year-old Mouse finds herself back at her old school, struggling to hide her devastation. With her old friends turned jealous and cruel, even the promise of a snowy week in the mountains of France looks less than hopeful. Enter whirlwind, ridiculous Connie and, of course, Jack: warm, kind and down-to-earth, he and Mouse clap eyes across the darkened-cinema-but-actually-just-a-sheet-hanging-down-with-film-playing-while-the-teachers-get-a-bit-of-kip, and it’s love at first sight. But soft, what light through yonder love triangle breaks?! It is Roland, and he is the effortlessly cool star of the French pop world. 

Enter a landslide (or should that be avalanche?) of shenanigans: snow sport disasters, failed flirtations, hidden ballet, igloo building, climbing out of windows, attempts to summon witch power with garbled chanting and the contents of some school trip suitcases… oh, and the smuggling of a live hamster across several international borders. It’s mayhem, misunderstandings, mischief and mystery, with most of Year 9 as concerned with snogging as they are skiing, Never Evers is full of fantastical escapades.

Told in alternating perspectives, Never Evers is entertaining, lively and smartly written. The prose is plain, the words are vivid and the adventure has a whole lot of heart. Mouse is a fabulous led - quiet, talented, unassuming, real – and Jack is such a good guy, it gives the story an honest, earthy feel. It deals with some tough issues – Mouse suffers some particularly insidious bullying, which I think will resonate as horrifically believable to many who have experienced similar trauma – but it’s got a superb deftness of touch, and there are some incredibly badass showdowns. It’s a brilliantly satisfying read. 

The book’s characters are probably a little too immature and naïve to be entirely realistic - it reads more like a book written about 14-year-olds, but actually written for 11 to 13-year-olds – but I loved that it highlighted the sincerity and humour of many young teenagers, if you take away peer pressure and the constant need to seem cool. Jack’s friends treat girls horribly – like objects or prizes, it’s completely sexist - which I was disappointed with, but Jack himself is reluctant to take part in the objectification and grows up faster than his friends, losing his self-consciousness and showing great care for Mouse. Some of the book’s events are a little far-fetched, but the adventure is so enjoyable, it’s still huge fun. The blurb is a little misleading – the love triangle, for example, is more of a love wander (I just really wanted to write that Romeo and Juliet line, tbh). Roland plays a prominent role, but it never really feels like Mouse e will choose him, because while she and Roland strike up an unlikely friendship on the set of his mountainside music video, this book is very much about Mouse finding her feet– and just happening to find the companionship of Connie, Jack and her confidence along the way.

I loved Jack and Mouse together: they may start shy, but their relationship is so genuine. You can’t help but root for them. I can see them being together for a long time. You know how it is: If you can survive seeing each other at your most awkward – and it doesn’t get much more awkward than the scary, spotty, sociable, occasionally carefree in-betweenness of Year 9 – then you can survive anything. Jack and Mouse are going to go far.

Never Evers is an easy read, but there’s plenty of story packed into these pages, and if it reads quickly it’s only because you’ll be racing to find out what’s next for Mouse, Jack and their motley crew. It has the potential to reach a wide audience – including reluctant readers – without losing its individuality, and I have a feeling I’ll be recommending it often. As much as I love the intensity of YA – from the rise of complex high fantasy and flashes of genius in dark magical realism or action-adventure to the regular appearance of impassioned calls-to-arms and constant watching for the next big thing – the brilliant simplicity and genuine feel-good factor of Never Evers makes it a true breath of fresh air. 

In short: if you’re after a feel good read this winter, Never Evers is the book you’re looking for. It’s refreshing simplicity and delightfully awkward teenagers will have you diving headfirst into Jack and Mouse’s world of friendship, first crushes and French heartthrobs. It’s warm, funny and heartfelt: a real treat. 

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