I feel like such an idiot. I’ve been reading this book for the past few days and now is the first time I notice that the flower on the cover is actually a girl in a dress… there you have it, internet. Sometimes, I’m just a bit dumb. But instead of covers, let’s talk stories – this one was far from what I expected. But it worked in its own way and even left me with a bit of a book hangover.
Published by: Harper Collins, 2012
ebook: 292 pages
My rating: 7/10
First sentence: She stands on the cliff, near the old crumbling stone house.
Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .
Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn’t believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.
Peter is unlike anyone she’s ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland’s inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she’s always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.
With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it’s the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who’s everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.
Neverland is a wonderful place. Not just for visiting and revisiting the original Peter Pan, but also because it offers endless possibilities for new stories. Jodi Lynn Anderson chose a much-neglected character as her protagonist. Tiger Lily never did get much attention, neither in the Disney movie, nor any other adaptations I’ve seen (there was this one anime show I watched as a kid and I remember she did show up on a regular basis… can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, exactly.). Tiger Lily may be the focus of this story but its narrator is another familiar creature from Neverland – Tinkerbell, the fairy.
Here is where things should have started to put me off. Tinkerbell is a very simple character – as J.M. Barrie explains, fairies are so small that there is only room in them for one emotion at any given time. And Tink tends to fill up with jealousy, or adoration for Peter. Anderson’s Tink, on the other hand, is a complex person. She can hold several, even opposing, feelings within herself, and her love for Peter does not keep her from loving Tiger Lily as well – even as she watches them fall in love and has to reconcile herself with the fact that Peter will never look at her the way he does at Tiger Lily. In fact, although she is nothing like the original character I know and love, Tink was at least as interesting as Tiger Lily and quietly grew on me over the course of the novel.
But Tink isn’t the only one that seems like she has nothing to do with Barrie’s original creation. Both Peter and Hook get doused with a proper dose of reality. I won’t give anything away, let’s just say I was very surprised to find that the only things magical in this story are fairies and mermaids. There is nothing of Barrie’s playfulness in Anderson’s language or plot. Instead, the author focuses on the melancholy themes that come with the territory. Tiger Lily is supposed to marry Giant, a brutish man of her tribe, when she meets Peter Pan. It takes a while but they end up falling in love and Tiger Lily is torn between two worlds. Except that isn’t true – there are even more problems weighing on that one girl’s mind. The pirates are out to kill Peter, and one of the Englishmen that sometimes come to Neverland is trying to convert her entire village to Christianity.
Through these problems, several themes come up that could have been explored more. But then it would have been a very different book. For example, we get a proper psychopath in Reginal Smee, and I wouldn’t have minded reading an entire book about him. Or Phillip, the Englishman that Tiger Lily saves after his ship wrecked on Neverland’s shores, who is a symbol for colonialism and tries to lead the “savage” Sky Eater tribe on their path to Heaven. I’m not sure if I really would have enjoyed seeing all these sub-plots fleshed out more. The author did a pretty good job in making her readers think, but doesn’t stray from her focal point – a young girl’s coming-of-age.
For a quiet little book like this, I have surprisingly much to say. There were so many things that I should have hated but didn’t: Tink being the way she is, Wendy being described as a silly, pampered idiot (although I guess, Tink does have a point there), and Hook being so very un-Hook-ish. But within the setting of this story, it all worked out. This isn’t an adventure story, it isn’t about children fighting pirates, and facing danger, and chasing after the Neverbird. This is a story about people, relationships, and how fragile they are.
Jodi Lynn Anderson manages one amazing feat that so few young adult books do. She creates characters that are vivid but feel like we never truly know them. We see them through Tink’s eyes and although she can pick up on people’s feelings and thoughts, we never get the whole picture. Tiger Lily always remains somewhat of a mystery – and this is where every reader’s imagination gets a chance to fill in the blanks. I’ve mentioned all the major players on this fantasy island, but I must talk about Anderson’s own inventions. Tiger Lily’s father, Tik Tok, was a wonderful addition to the cast. He is the tribe’s shaman who likes to wear women’s clothing and shows infinite patience for his daughter and tribe members. Pine Sap, teased for being unmanly and bad at hunting, is Tiger Lily’s only true friend and one of the few who just love her the way she is. Even Moon Eye, who could be cause for jealousy, is nothing but lovable and shows some amazing and unexpected depth.
There isn’t much dialogue in the book but even without saying much, these characters came to life through Tink’s descriptions, the things she notices and tells us, and the things she omits. Looking back now, I can’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy inside at the thought of Pine Sap and Moon Eye. I don’t have a lot to say about the prose. Sure, descriptions and introspection take center stage over dialogue and action, but again – and don’t ask me how – it just works. This is not what I would call a page turner and yet I finished the book in just a few sittings.
Apart from the characters, a lot of other things deviate from what you may know about Peter Pan. Tiger Lily tells the story of a young girl from the Sky Eater tribe, a story that started well before Wendy ever showed up. But Wendy does appear and we all know how that story goes… only in this case we don’t. For Tiger Lily and Tink, there is no fairy tale ending. But even though it was sad, verging on depressing, the ending was just as appropriate and fitting as was the rest of the story.
So yeah… I’ll never let go of my love for the original tale but, as retellings, spin-offs, prequels or sequels go, this is one of the better ones. If you want a quiet book that is nonetheless a quick read, and if you like explorign alternate versions of Peter Pan, pick this one up.
MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good