Book talk: Neverland is not the fantasy you know it as. It's an island in the Atlantic that few know how to visit. Because of its isolation, there are creatures there that cannot be found anywhere else, creatures like mermaids and fairies. It's one of those creatures, Tinkerbell, who tells us the story of Tiger Lily as she saw it. Her story is not one of childhood dreams and happy endings. Neverland can be a dangerous place, and if you're not careful the island will eat you alive. But for Tiger Lily the most dangerous things on the island are not the native hazards, but the foreigners who wash-up and make the island their home. Foreigners like the infamous Peter Pan.
Rocks my socks: This is one of the best re-tellings of a story that I've read. All of the familiar characters are there, but what were two dimensional archetypes in the original story have been transformed into layered characters with interesting new histories that inform their every move. Even Captain Hook gets a new back story that lends him some human interest and sympathy: his hand was not eaten by a crocodile "it came off in an assembly line...I was staying up nights to study. I thought I could study my way into being a gentleman. Well, I fell asleep. My hand went in instead of the leather." Smee, on the other hand, is transformed from a bumbling idiot into a psychopath who literally gets away with murder because he looks so innocuous.
The story is full of outsiders with Tiger Lily and her best friend described as "both misfits or, as I liked to think of them, strange exotic birds, one too fierce to be hemmed in as a girl, and the other too hesitant to be respected as a boy." My favorite of the new characters introduced in this book is Tik Tok, the medicine man who adopted Tiger Lily as a child. He wears dresses, grows his hair long, and engages in women's activities instead of hunting with the men. Everyone in the island accepts him for who he is without a second-thought--that is until an Englishman washes ashore and begins to convert the islanders. His story is the most heart-wrenching in a novel that is ultimately about heartbreak. Tinkerbell loves Peter Pan, but she cannot communicate with him even if the difference in their size could be overcome. Tiger Lily is torn between her love of her father and her tribe and her growing affection for Peter, but knows that she can't have both. Peter senses these difficulties but ignores all his problems in hopes that they'll go away.
Wendy is one of the few characters that isn't presented as vulnerable and broken: "She had the blissful confidence of someone who had never been put in a pot of turkey broth to die." I think the quote that best describes her though is "She held her skirts against her legs as they walked, making sure to slowly avoid this tiny briar and that muddy boggy spot, for out of all the things in the forest, she noticed her dress the most." Perhaps this is why she is so attractive to Peter: in an island of misfits she stubbornly insists on molding her surroundings to suit her so that she always belongs. For the rest of the characters things do not work out as well. The emotions of the novel are as raw and wild as the Neverland forest: characters act in haste, they make mistakes, they betray each other. That is precisely why I loved this novel so much. There are enough stories about people who can do no wrong and love that conquers all. But unfortunately we are not all Wendys and life doesn't always work like that. This is a story is for the misfits, for the failed romances, for the voices that are silenced. This is Tiger Lily's story so it doesn't take Peter's advice and ignore things that are difficult or unpleasant. I loved it for that, even if it made bawl harder than I have in a long time.
Rocks in my socks: The only thing that nagged at me was that despite beginning with a warning that things will not end well, Anderson takes a lot of time at the end of the novel describing the rest of the lives of the characters and tying up loose ends to show that everyone was ultimately more or less happy. I wish some of that had been edited down. I'm not a fan of lengthy goodbyes in real life or bloated denouements in fiction.
Every book its reader: I'd give this to people who like darker retellings of classic stories. Fans of Wicked Lovely and Tender Morsels should enjoy this modern perspective on Peter Pan. It's definitely more character than plot-driven though so those looking for action scenes with pirate fights should look elsewhere. There's plenty for adults to enjoy but because it is so dark I'd save it for at least 7th grade and up.
"Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love story, but not like any you’ve heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win. In some places, there is something ultimately good about endings. In Neverland, that is not the case."
"Peter gave her a crooked smile. 'The way I see it, ignoring things is important.'”
"Every kind of love, it seems, is the only one. It doesn’t happen twice."
"Sometimes love means not being able to bear seeing the one you love the way they are, when they’re not what you hoped for them."