Wendy Darling has always been one of my very favorite Disney characters. I can’t explain why, exactly…the voice work? the way she’s drawn? (Obviously, the racism toward Native Americans in Peter Pan is horrible, but the art, done during Disney Animation’s first Golden Age, is spectacular.) Maybe it’s her calm and soothing nature. Of course I’ve read Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, and I’m likely to watch any kind of Peter Pan movie or show. (I admit…the live TV musical was an exception!) So I was excited to receive an electronic ARC of this retelling.
THE PLOT: In this version of the story, Wendy is 16 years old and embarking on her first romance with her childhood friend, Booth. Unfortunately, he’s the son of the local bookseller, and therefore of an unacceptably lower social class than the Darlings. Wendy’s father is a kind man, but he absolutely forbids the relationship. Between this and harsh treatment from her moody 14-year-old brother, John, Wendy is in emotional turmoil when handsome Peter Pan explodes through the nursery window, inviting Wendy, John, and five-year-old Michael off to his home in Neverland. Once in Neverland, the kids begin forgetting about their home and loved ones (including Booth). Wendy’s attraction to Peter is like a force of nature, and she just wants to be near him. She also wants to keep her brothers safe, but John, dubbed a general by Peter, isn’t having it. As Wendy and John’s relationship deteriorates and Peter overwhelms them all, Wendy struggles to remember her past. But what is Peter’s real purpose in bringing them to Neverland? Why is Wendy in particular so important to him?
MY TWO CENTS: I absolutely devoured this book, which pulled me in right away with the introductions to the Darlings. I was a little taken aback at first by the ages of the children. I can’t remember if their ages are mentioned in Peter Pan, but I generally think of the children as ages 12, 8, and 4 or thereabouts. Making Wendy 16 years old really both takes away and adds to the plot possibilities. The whole point of Wendy being just prepubescent is that she’s trying to avoid growing up, not leap into adulthood. On the other hand, a teenage Wendy who has already had her first kiss opens up the exploration of a truly romantic relationship between Wendy and Peter. And this is obviously one of the main themes of the book: the difference between innocent first love and sexual awakening.
The presentation of John also takes some adjustment. In Disney’s treatment, John is kind of a nerd; he wears glasses and grabs his father’s top hat to wear with his nightshirt. He’s also still definitely a child.This teenage John seems to almost hate Wendy, even more so after their arrival in Neverland. What is up with him? Is he afraid of Wendy usurping his role as their father’s favorite child? He seems to hold a grudge against her for being a girl, using her looks to attract boys, and basically being a living doll. Is John having trouble with gender roles? Is he jealous of Wendy’s friendship with Booth while he, her own brother, is isolated and lonely? Or is he just being a typical 14-year-old brother, magnified by the lack of supervision in Neverland?
Finally, I’m enjoying the presentation of Evil Peter Pan. Anyone who watches Once Upon a Time has already experienced an evil Peter whose goal is to stay young forever no matter what it takes. This Peter obviously wants Wendy. Why choose her, specifically? What led him to her nursery window? How much of what Peter has told Wendy is the truth? And why does he use Tinker Bell like an ex who will still do anything for her guy?
BOTTOM LINE: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. In addition to being a well-written story, it makes you want to analyze it. I can’t wait for Volume Two—Wendy Darling: Seas. If you’re a Peter Pan fan, don’t miss this.
TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.
ON SALE DATE: Available on October 13, 2015, in paperback and eformats.
Note: Review is based on ARCs provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.