Christopher Golden, Straight on 'Til Morning (Signet, 2001; Roc, 2006)

Wendy asked where he lived.

"Second to the right," said Peter, "and then straight on till morning."

"What a funny address!" -- J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

On the cusp of his fourteenth birthday, Kevin Murphy is looking forward to his last summer before high school: three months spent drinking beer, swimming under the railroad trestle, and pining over the love of his life, Nikki French -- a fifteen-year-old so out of his league, Kevin isn't even willing to profess his true feelings until after his birthday. At least then he will only be one year younger than this girl who usually dates older guys.

But there is trouble in town in this summer of 1981: a nineteen-year-old named Pete Starling who, with his hoodlum friends, is about to make Kevin's life practically unbearable. By the end of the summer, Kevin will have to learn a lot about what it means to be a man, what it means to be a friend, and what it means to be truly in love.

Christopher Golden, is perhaps best known for his skill at taking an existing mythology and going somewhere new with it (see The Myth Hunters , Bloodstained Oz , the Prowlers series, The Hollow series, his Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels, etc.) and here he puts his own spin on Peter Pan (though it is not obvious at first). In many ways, the story of Kevin Murphy is the story of the teenage Christopher Golden. In his introduction to Straight on 'Til Morning (new to this edition), he states this in so many words. But it would be fairly obvious even without known that Nikki French's real-life counterpart was named Bobbi English. The characters and events in the first third of the book feel too real to be fully fictional. The emotions are simply too genuine to be imaginary. This portion of the novel is terrific material that deserves to added to the long line of classic coming-of-age novels.

As far as I am concerned, that would have been enough of a story for one novel. But Golden is apparently a more ambitious writer than I am a reader, because he took his characters off to a strange, dark version of Neverland with only some vaguely magical directions to guide them. I was a little worried that this would throw off the tone of Straight on 'Til Morning, and for the most part I was right, but Golden grounds even this foray into the unreal with the solidity of his characters.

Unfortunately, this second half does not work as well as the first. The story drags throughout, when it should be highly suspenseful due to the abduction of a major character, because Golden has to stop the action to describe the new surroundings in detail. This makes his Neverland very easy to imagine, but there were many times I wanted him to just get on with the story! But even then, just like seemingly every other fantasy tale, it has to end in a sword fight, which was a huge disappointment given how well things had started off (though I do have to give him a couple of points for scoring another climactic scene with Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir"). As interested as I was in Straight on 'Til Morning (partially because it shares its title with my favorite Blues Traveler album), it was perhaps too much for it to meet the high expectations I had placed upon it from reading some of Golden's other works.

Also included in this new edition (which otherwise matches the Signet mass-market edition page for page; both imprints are part of the Penguin Group) is a bonus short story, "Runaway," that illuminates a pivotal event in the Murphys' lives that is only mentioned in passing in the novel. It is a wonderful accompaniment to Straight on 'Til Morning -- though it also relies a little too much on fantastic elements for my taste -- and the perfect way to close the door on the Murphys' story.)

[Craig Clarke]