Author: A.C. Wise
A lush, feminist re-imagining on what happened to Wendy after Neverland, for fans of Circe and The Mere Wife.
For those that lived there, Neverland was a children’s paradise. No rules, no adults, only endless adventure and enchanted forests – all led by the charismatic boy who would never grow old.
But Wendy Darling grew up. She left Neverland and became a woman, a mother, a patient, and a survivor. Because Neverland isn’t as perfect as she remembers. There’s darkness at the heart of the island, and now Peter Pan has returned to claim a new Wendy for his lost boys…
The Peter Pan universe is extremely fascinating. There are the versions that take the happier route, similar to the 1950s Disney animated or the live action version. On the other hand, there are the darker versions, such as, Once Upon a Time. This retelling takes the darker route. It takes the known basics and then creates its own original story. The title itself gives a good indication of the different and clever approach the story takes on Wendy as the comma does not reference her “Darling” name, but instead the “darling” word.
Wendy Darling visited Neverland after Peter showed up at her window back in 1902. Her two brothers, Michael and John, came along the adventure and the three of them explored the wonders of Neverland. The three of them returned and all handled the events differently. The story opens with Wendy after she grew up. She is now married for over ten years to a man named Ned and the two of them have their eleven year old daughter named Jane. One day, a figure from her past comes to Jane’s window and takes her away. Now Wendy has to face her past all over again to help get her daughter back.
There are two main timelines in this story, where we follow the aftermath when the Darling siblings returned from Neverland and the present day where adult Wendy has to find her daughter. In Neverland, the experience that Jane has is vastly different than the memory Wendy had of her time there. In the past timeline, Wendy chose to not block out her experience in Neverland, unlike the approach taken by Michael and John. As a result, she is sent to an asylum to become “normal” again to society. However, Wendy does not wish to forget and wants to return to Neverland to escape her new reality. There is a reference to the Darling parents dying on the Titanic (the unsinkable ship is mention, but not explicitly named) and the Great War where there her brother was a soldier. Together with the Neverland and the asylum, there is a lot of discussion about PTSD and abuse.
The story alternates between Jane’s and Wendy’s points of view. Jane’s time in Neverland illustrates her found relationships with the Lost Boys and Peter, himself, as something always seems off in her eyes. Wendy’s life outside of Neverland was not perfect as she has to balance lying to others or lying to herself as there is almost no one who believes, or pretends to believe, her story. The pacing in this story is steady throughout as there is a lot of description of each event and thought. The ending does seem a little rushed by comparison as the writing tries to wrap everything up, so I would have preferred more time for explanations and descriptions. The writing itself and wording choices fit the time period where there are references to racism and misogyny. At the same time, there is a more modern approach to elements, such as Wendy’s more unconventional marriage.
Overall, this darker retelling was well worth the read as I did not want to put it down. While the Neverland in this story was familiar to other versions that I have read and watched, it still had the feel of a new place. There is a lot of tension in Neverland as Jane tries to survive life with Peter and the Lost Boys, there is some where Wendy is trying to rescue Jane, and there is a lot present as Wendy just tries to survive life in the asylum where she is deemed “not well.” This novel was a great take on Peter Pan through the eyes of Wendy and how events from the past can affect your future. It was a very captivating read!
**I want to give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Titan Books, for a review copy of this entertaining novel. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**