• Karissa Chmil

Book Review: Dust (Kara Swanson)

“You were created for more than to bear the weight of your shadows—but you have to choose to no longer let them define you. You have to choose to let the light shine through the shattered pieces.”


Dust, Kara Swanson


You turn the book over in your hand, thinking. A girl terrified of her own magic. A boy torn from the world he loves. A princess desperately trying to keep her world from crumbling.


Turning the book over, you glance at the back. A masterful storyteller. A twist on a classic tale. YA fantasy that builds up and inspires.


But is it worth it?


The book you are holding is Dust, by Kara Swanson, and as for whether it’s worth it. . . well, I am very glad you asked.


Synopsis:


The truth about Neverland is far more dangerous than a fairy tale.


Claire Kenton believes the world is too dark for magic to be real–since her twin brother was stolen away as a child. Now Claire’s desperate search points to London… and a boy who shouldn’t exist.


Peter Pan is having a beastly time getting back to Neverland. Grounded in London and hunted by his own Lost Boys, Peter searches for the last hope of restoring his crumbling island: a lass with magic in her veins.


The girl who fears her own destiny is on a collision course with the boy who never wanted to grow up. The truth behind this fairy tale is about to unravel everything Claire thought she knew about Peter Pan–and herself.


Plot —⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Swanson’s plot grabs you from the first page and keeps you until the very last page. The twists and turns caused me to gasp several times, to the great amusement of my siblings.


The action is vivid and logical, and the many surprises and reveals never failed to keep me guessing.


Characters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Of the whole book, the characters were by far my favorite. Broken yet clinging to hope, struggling yet refusing to despair, they were beyond real in my mind and became friends within the first chapter.


Claire’s fierce love of her brother and her fear of her own dust beautifully intertwine to form a girl who is broken yet believing, holding onto the last hope she has. Her backstory was heartbreaking but realistic, and it was beyond clear how she became who she is when the reader first meets her. Her struggles and fears resonated with mine, and I quickly became attached to her.


Peter was an absolute delight to read. His quips and banter with Tiger Lily left me grinning, and yet his character is much more than a cocky little boy. This Peter Pan has depth, new sides to him, a determination and vulnerability I never saw in the original. I fell in love with his character even more than I did Claire, and I kept longing for him to receive a happy ending even when he messed up.


Lily, with her graceful poise, cool-headed and determined personality, and fierce loyalty made me think over and over: This is the kind of friend I want to have. More than that, Tiger Lily is the kind of friend I want to be. I was fascinated with her character and treasured every scrap of backstory Swanson revealed of the tribal princess.


Pacing — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


If the definition of a good book is one that can get me to vocalize my surprise at a plot twist, Dust is a masterpiece. I believe I seriously concerned my mother at one point when a character’s alias finally clicked.


The scenes are fast-paced, emotional scenes and action scenes perfectly balanced. As a writer, I can attest to how hard this is—and yet Swanson did it magnificently.


Worldbuilding and Setting — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Peter and Claire’s surroundings, be that California, London, or the sky, were vividly painted in my mind. The settings, be they California, London, or the sky, made me want to go there myself, to see Lily and Peter and Claire as they fly through this adventure.


Prose — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


The first-person narrative pulled me so quickly into the characters’ minds that it felt strange returning to the real world.


When I first read Dust, I wasn’t at all used to reading in the present tense. I did it sometimes, but it would generally take me a while to get used to it.


When I picked up Peter’s story, though, it took me several chapters to even realize the writing was in present tense. Swanson pulls your thoughts from the words to the story so quickly that you barely even realize it happened.


Theme — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


For all its stardust and dreams, Dust also features characters who have been broken and the darkness they wrestle with. Despite this, Swanson’s strong faith is clearly shown, and the darkness never got to a point where it made me uncomfortable from a moral point.


As it is a YA, there are some older themes woven into the tale, though my younger brother (age eleven) read it and enjoyed it. I’d be comfortable handing Dust to a pre-teen.


Conclusion


The short answer is: Yes. Dust is beyond worth it.


Kara Swanson’s tale is one of aching beauty that drew me in at once. Readers who love powerful speculative fiction with themes that resonate will adore this book.


I would highly recommend reading the original Peter Pan before this—it lays the foundation and lets you know who Peter is before he steps onto the stage. It is possible to read it without this, of course, but the story will be much more full if you read the original beforehand.


I wouldn’t say, though, that Dust is in any way trying to replace J. M. Barrie’s story; rather, it is merely fulfilling it. Dust takes those of us who had fallen in love with Peter Pan as children on a new adventure—an adventure that doesn’t end when we leave the nursery.


Because, as Peter and I found out together, growing up just might be the biggest adventure yet.

 

Have you read Dust yet? Who was your favorite character? Let me know in the comments!


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