I seriously don’t know how anyone can see this cover and then not purchase this book. I love everything about it. And the more I think about it now, the more I think the girl on the cover isn’t Tiger Lily, but instead the wonderful narrator of the book.
The book is actually told from Tink’s point of view. I had no idea that this was the way it was setup, until I dived in. At first, this worried me because I know that Tink sort of loved Peter Pan, and I didn’t want the whole thing to be some kind of jealousy story. Eventually, though, I came to love Tink. I’m not sure who I loved more: Tiger Lily and all her fierceness and bravery or Tink and her big heart that just wants someone to pay attention to her.
The whole book is about growing up. In Neverland, people stop growing. They reach a certain point in their lives when they just stop. They can die, and tend to die in harsh circumstances (like by pirate, or mermaid, or crocodile), but they stop aging. And I never really thought about how hard it must be for someone who stands out as different to live in a land where everyone is always the same.
Tiger Lily is always picked on and slightly ostracized for her differences. She likes to do “boy things” like go hunting and spend hours in the forest. Most of her village blames this on her adoptive father, the shaman of the tribe. He’s different too. He likes to dress and act like a woman (something I was so not expecting!). After a while, Tiger Lily’s behavior puts her in enough of the radar of the rest of the village that her father agrees that it is time she marries.
An Englander washes up on the shore, and none of the tribe is willing to aid him because they are afraid of catching what they call the aging disease. Tiger Lily isn’t afraid of catching the disease though. And she spends her days escaping an evil future mother in law and an abusive future husband by going to help the Englishman return to health. Tiger Lily’s father agreed to her match before he even knew Tiger Lily. He found her in a flower, and the only way his tribe allowed him to bring her up as his own was by promising a match for her with another important tribesman.
Soon, Tiger Lily, upon leaving her tribe more and more to escape, comes across Peter and the lost boys. She and Peter immediately connect on a friendship level. Both seem always needing to prove themselves. Both seem fearless. And both seem to never want to grow up. Of course, Tiger Lily’s engagement complicates things when their friendship slowly evolves into first love. And things only become more complicated with the arrival of Wendy, and more Englishmen, and God (taught by the Englishmen).
This book has so much tough stuff in it! There is abuse, rape, suicide, prejudice, and bullying. There is also murder, pirate fights, fires, fairies, mermaids, celebrations, waterfalls, and kidnappings. The pirates actually have reasons for being who they are. Hook is a drunk, who keeps getting more drunk and more angry because he spent so many years and resources to find Neverland, the place where you don’t age, only to discover that it doesn’t work on him; he still ages. And Smee is actually a serial killer. He early on sets his sites on Tiger Lily and all of the scenes that involve him are beyond terrifying!
No one can hear fairies; they don’t talk. So Tink is forced to just watch everything and not actually be able to have an effect on anything at all. She’s lucky if someone she watches ever even notices her existence. Though, both Tiger Lily and Peter, at different points in the story, not only recognize Tink, but speak to her and acknowledge her as no one else has. The only two people to make Tink think she’s not too small are Tiger Lily and Peter. Fairies can also read people’s minds and its how they communicate amongst each other.
There are themes of religion, time, age, colonization, romance, and adventure! None of the children fly in this rendition of Peter Pan. Wendy’s brothers play no role in the story. In a lot of ways this version is much sadder and a lot more intense than the original. The main characters all seem a little bit older than the children pictured in the Disney version. And all of the characters have this J.M. Barrie type wisdom to them. I cried, I laughed, and I hoped in this book for an ending that I knew most likely would not happen.
And what really made this whole thing so wonderful was the writing! The characters, while different from their originals, had so much of their true voices (even Wendy) that I sometimes found myself forgetting that this was a retelling. Anderson managed to weave all the elements of Neverland (the good and the bad) together in such a dark, powerful, and unique way. I am so glad to have gotten to know Tink and Tiger Lily better! This gets a 10/10 from me.