Release Date: October 13th, 2015
Synopsis: Wendy Darling has a perfectly agreeable life with her parents and brothers in wealthy London, as well as a budding romance with Booth, the neighborhood bookseller’s son. But while their parents are at a ball, the charmingly beautiful Peter Pan comes to the Darling children’s nursery and–dazzled by this flying boy with God-like powers–they follow him out the window and straight on to morning, to Neverland, an intoxicating island of feral freedom.
As time passes in Neverland, Wendy realizes this Lost Boy’s paradise of turquoise seas, mermaids, and pirates holds terrible secrets rooted in blood and greed. As Peter’s grasp on her heart tightens, she struggles to remember where she came from–and begins to suspect that this island of dreams, and the boy who desires her–have the potential to transform into an everlasting nightmare.
I finished this book a few days ago but I’ve put off reviewing this because I’ve been waffling over how high a rating I should give it. After giving it much thought I decided on 3 stars mainly because the world-building is wonderful, and perfectly captures Neverland and all it’s magic, good and bad. Colleen Oakes also adds some interesting tweaks to the original story which makes it stand out from some of the other recent retellings of this childhood classic. That said however, I had some real issues with the characters which prevented me from truly enjoying the book.
Let’s start with Wendy. In this story she’s portrayed as a sixteen-year-old, the oldest in an upper-middle class family. Her father’s an accountant and amateur astronomer and her mother is a stereotypical socialite who flutters worryingly around everyone. Wendy is sweetly in love with Booth, a likable bookseller’s son who unfortunately is considered unsuitable due to his social and economic circumstances. Within the first few pages Wendy is already being forced to choose between her family and their wealth, or possible impoverishment and love. At this point she comes across as being rather shallow and vapid and spends a fair amount of time dithering over what she should do. That said, she does summon up the courage to plan on sneaking out to join Booth despite her father’s threats that he’ll send her away to a boarding school. Unfortunately that’s the night that Peter makes his appearance and her plan goes awry. Once she’s in Neverland, she develops into a heroine worth rooting for. At the same time she’s discovering that this magical island and Peter are not what they seem, she’s also discovering her own hidden strength. What I especially loved about her was her relationship with little Michael. She’s more of a mother to them him than their own, who is rather a ditz. Their relationship is so lovingly depicted it became my favorite part of the book.
Like in other recent retellings, Peter Pan does not come across well in this story. Handsome and oozing charm, you can understand why any teenage girl would be swooning over him. (By the way, in this tale he’s about Wendy’s age.) It doesn’t take long though for you to see he definitely has a dark side. The Lost Boys number over 200 and they’re all pretty much slavishly devoted to him. Equally so is Tinkerbell, despite the abysmal way he treats her. And therein lies the problem. Peter doesn’t care for anyone except for himself. His Lost Boys fight Hook and his pirates over things like alcohol, but they fight with real weapons which result in quite a few being killed. But no matter. It’s all just an adventure and game to Peter. By the end of the book it’s clear he’s a psychopath and a liar, and even worse likes to abuse women. His relationship with Wendy isn’t just dark, it’s creepy. He’s obsessively possessive, and in one scene he comes very close to raping her. Between this and a particular scene involving Tink, I was left feeling very uncomfortable.
Equally detestable is John who I’d guess is about fourteen. He’s jealous, bitter and angry and takes out his feelings constantly on Wendy. It’s never really explained why he’s like this though. While Wendy is close with their father, it’s John in his role as the oldest son who receives the most time with him. I have to admit his attitude drove me crazy throughout the entire book. He also bullies Michael, which didn’t exactly endear me to him either.
I found Tinkerbell to be a complicated character. When she’s first introduced she is one nasty piece of work. She’s insanely jealous of Wendy and does just about everything she can to get rid of her. But then she does something truly dreadful in order to keep Peter to herself. Surprisingly because of the repercussions of that one act, she actually becomes a much more sympathetic figure.
The one character who I completely fell in love with was Michael. He’s all wide-eyed innocence, and as adorable as only a five-year-old can be. The passages showing his and Wendy’s relationship were my favorites by far.
Everyone’s favorite pirate, Hook, doesn’t really make an appearance (except in flashbacks courtesy of Peter), until the end of the book. Thanks to that ending though I will probably read the next book, although I think I’ll borrow it from the library rather than purchasing it. While this first book in the Wendy Darling series has quite a few flaws regarding it’s mainly one- dimensional characters and some awkward dialogue, I do think that as a series it holds some promise. I’m hoping in the next book there’ll be much more about Hook, and that Wendy and Tink join forces against Peter. It would be nice to see the only two women featured, throw off their figurative shackles and team up to fight.