A lush, feminist re-imagining on what happened to Wendy after Neverland, for fans of Circe and The Mere Wife.
Find the second star from the right, and fly straight on ’til morning, all the way to Neverland, a children’s paradise with no rules, no adults, only endless adventure and enchanted forests – all led by the charismatic boy who will never grow old.
But Wendy Darling grew up. She has a husband and a young daughter called Jane, a life in London. But one night, after all these years, Peter Pan returns. Wendy finds him outside her daughter’s window, looking to claim a new mother for his Lost Boys. But instead of Wendy, he takes Jane.
Now a grown woman, a mother, a patient and a survivor, Wendy must follow Peter back to Neverland to rescue her daughter and finally face the darkness at the heart of the island…
CW: this book contains mentions of trauma, abuse, confinement, violence and death.
I was personally never a fan of Peter Pan. I always found him to be too fickle, spoilt, controlling and sometimes downright abusive to romanticise him or Neverland, so I tend to really enjoy any retelling where Peter Pan is not portrayed as a hero. Wendy, Darling fit right into that category, but at the same time did so much more by giving Wendy a voice and allowing her to tell her story – and this time it is not a bedtime story for children.
Wendy, Darling was beautifully structured, alternating between Wendy’s first time in Neverland, her experience of life in London after returning from Neverland, and her return to Neverland to rescue her daughter Jane, whom Peter has kidnapped to become a new mother for the Lost Boys. We also get to see things from Jane’s POV, as she tries to make sense of what is happening to her and work out how to survive Neverland and return home. I really liked this structure, and I thought it worked very well to really show all that Wendy endured while slowly peeling off layers of Wendy’s memories to reach the truth of Neverland, Peter and the darkness lurking within.
This book takes some really dark turns, and I think after reading this no one will be able to look at Peter Pan or the Lost Boys in quite the same way again. Together with Wendy, we readers are brought to questioning everything we thought was true. But what is real and what is fantasy?
Wendy was a fantastic character. She is a survivor, having experienced suffering and abuse for years following her return from Neverland. Unlike her brothers, Wendy has not forgotten their time in Neverland, but she is disbelieved by everyone until she is finally committed to an asylum where treatments are brutal and dehumanising. The chapters recounting Wendy’s time in the asylum were particularly harrowing, especially because of all the bullying and abuse she suffered at the hands of the staff so maybe be cautious in approaching this if that might be triggering for you. Knowing her pain gives so much more weight to Wendy’s decision to go back to Neverland as a grown woman to save her daughter and is a testament to her strength.
Even though Wendy, as the main character, carried the show, all the characters felt really well developed, including the minor ones. I am all about the characters, and these ones really delivered! From Wendy’s brothers to the Lost Boys, and from old Neverland friends to her new family, everyone has something to offer and I was totally here for it! Peter is of course a key character in this, and I really liked the author’s take on him.
There were times when I got a bit frustrated as things seemed to be moving too slowly, but it somehow didn’t feel as though there was an issue with pacing. The slower passages felt very deliberate, and especially in certain sections I could feel the characters’ frustration, which I think was the point? The book takes its time, building a picture of all the characters bit by bit until we think we can see the whole of them… but can anyone ever do that?
Overall, Wendy, Darling is a wonderfully dark retelling that takes on a life of its own, almost independently from the original story, to explore very real and modern issues around misogyny, mental health, trauma and survivorship, family and many, many more.