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 of the window and straight on to morning, to Neverland, a intoxicating island of feral freedom.
As time passes in Neverland, Wendy realizes that 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 received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book published on October 13th 2015! (Happy Late Publication Day!)
Fairytales retellings with a twist will always have a small, special place in my heart. It is perhaps why I was immediately intrigued when I heard about Wendy Darling: Stars. Another reason: personally speaking, the idea of Neverland never appealed to me – a place where no one aged seemed like something too good to be true, and even as a young child I perceived this as a trap of sorts. (What does that say about me?) Looking at its cover, you get an inkling that something is amiss – a hint that things may not be what it seems – and such suspicions will be proven true.
Told from the perspective of Wendy Darling, Wendy Darling by Colleen Oakes is a retelling of Peter Pan with a delightfully dark direction, chilling undertones, and fantastic interpretations of the story’s characters. Though parts of narrative of Wendy Darling retain elements of the original story, those familiar with Peter Pan – whether it be the original or the Disney version – will appreciate the allusions and similarities to the original subject matter. The changes to the story – and they are numerous – are a breath of fresh air, particularly the addition of original characters which successfully add another dimension of complexity and diversity to the story. Reading Wendy Darling is an experience that feels comfortable and familiar, but also incredibly exciting when it treads on unknown territory.
Wendy Darling undermines the picture-perfect preconceptions of Neverland and its inhabitants. It shatters them and rebuilds them, and now I may never be able to see Peter Pan the same ever again. Oakes takes the beloved characters from Peter Pan, and crafts an interpretation so compelling and dark that it’s addictive. Reading their developments was like trying to uncover the true depth of their malice, and both Wendy and reader are pulled into a terrifying descent into madness and disillusion. As the Darlings begin to forget who they are and where they came from, Wendy Darling adopts elements of a psychological thriller, the results are horrifying, akin to what the summary promises: a nightmare.
Unfortunately, the beginning is exceptionally slow to start as it sets the context of Wendy’s life and her character. Though what we see in the beginning shapes her character, its significance has yet to manifest in this book (though perhaps it will in its sequel). I would have liked to see more effort and time devoted to Tink’s character development or the other Lost Boys. Furthermore, there were instances where the rhythm or force of the narrative was lost in its superfluous descriptions; my imagination felt tied down to minute details, and the magic of Neverland was partly diminished because of it. Thankfully, the second half of the book is a dramatic improvement to the first and there are still many things to love despite these minor shortcomings.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of Wendy Darling was how its twist crept up on you, and I loved the way Oakes achieved this with so much subtlety that it found ways to surprise me. It is less the fact that what transpires is surprising in itself, but more of how the writing comes from an unexpected angle. My visualization of the narrative was strongly influenced by the Disney version; I saw the cartoon characters in my mind. And as I read, I found small mentions of things that did not belong in fairytales. It created a crack in my imagining of the story; suddenly I found that the cartoon characters did not belong in such a graphic, violent place. This story was not a happy fantasy. It was a brutal, gritty retelling, with undisguised violence and behaviours that truly horrifies. There were moments when I was confused – did I just really read that? The dissonance and the realization that Wendy Darling wasn’t a fairytale was so profound for something so subtle, but it is what makes Wendy Darling the fantastically twisted book that it is.
Oakes’s powerful writing lowered my barriers with its familiarity, raised them with its foreboding, but all along had been making its way underneath my skin. Wendy Darling is a great book for readers who love retellings with a dark twist, but also captures the innocence of children, and the power of words and figures of authority.
And of course it needs to be said – that ending. Wow. The sequel. I need.
Book Name: Wendy Darling: Stars
Book Series: Wendy Darling #1
Author: Colleen Oakes
Thank you to Diana at Booking an Adventure for recommending me this book!