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[Book Review] "Wendy, Darling" by A.C. Wise

Wendy Darling, now a wife and mother, must face Neverland once more.

By Meg IlsleyPublished about a month ago 6 min read
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SYNOPSIS:

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 on 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...

GENRE: Fantasy, Retelling, Horror, Fairytale, Historical

PUBLISHED: June 1, 2021

RECEPTION: Mixed-Positive (4.2 on Amazon; 3.61 on Goodreads)

CONTENT WARNINGS: extreme medical abuse, gaslighting, depictions of abusive asylums, mentions of suicide, mentions of sexual assault, torture

REVIEW:

Wendy, Darling is a dark retelling of what happens to Wendy, Michael, and John Darling after their adventures in Neverland during J.M. Barrie's 1904 play, Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up and 1911 novel, Peter and Wendy (though the character of Peter Pan first appeared in Barrie's 1902 novel, The Little White Bird). After her adventures in Neverland, Wendy Darling returned to London where her memories of Neverland and Peter are thought of as nothing more than delusions, especially as Michael and John no longer believe their adventures in the magical land happened. Wendy finds herself admitted to an asylum to help with her delusions, married off to the son of John's boss, and mother to a young daughter, Jane.

When Peter Pan shows up in Jane's room one night, mistaking her for Wendy and whisking her away to Neverland to be a mother to his Lost Boys, Wendy must return to the place she has longed to return to rescue her daughter.

Following two points of view and two timelines - Jane in 1931, Wendy in 1931, and Wendy in 1917-1920 - the main plot is centred around Wendy rescuing her daughter from Peter and Neverland, but takes the reader back to the asylum in which Wendy was committed and tortured in the hopes she would be 'cured' and forget about Neverland entirely. We also see Jane go through the same events Wendy did, experiencing those same events through a different lens, a much less magical one, one from which she wants to escape. It builds a sense of horror and loss and pain as we watch Wendy, for whom Neverland was always this beautiful memory, figure out what we as the reader already know; Neverland isn't perfect the way she remembers. There's a darkness to the island, to Peter Pan, and a twisted nature to his whimsy and childlike wonder.

Wendy in this story is a woman who's been crushed, tortured, and abused, forced to give up on something that was genuinely a happy memory for her. She clings to Neverland as an idea, clings to the hope of something she remembers as beautiful, and even regrets the fact she had to leave in moments, but is forced to face the reality that Neverland is not as beautiful as she remembers. It is an interesting parallel to the fact that Wendy has also lost her name - through her marriage and the use of the word 'darling' being used almost to torment her - but only through letting Neverland go and getting Jane back can she reclaim herself, reclaim who she is, and get up the courage to tell her husband the secret she has been holding back their entire marriage: why she was committed.

Wise does an excellent job blending new characters like Ned (Wendy's husband) and Jane (her daughter) with old favourites like Michael, John, and Tiger Lily. Her use of Wendy to draw parallels to Neverland then and Neverland now is expertly done; she lets Wendy question things she is seeing, ask why things are not the way she remembered, and figure out what happened on her own. She also does an excellent job hinting at the true nature of the Lost Boys, largely through the use of Jane and a Lost Boy named Timothy.

I genuinely adored this story and the darker side of Peter and Neverland; it makes him more fae-like as he always seemed in Barrie's original stories. If I had to give any sort of criticism, however, it would be four (relatively minor) things...

First, the story felt both too slow and too rushed at the same time, almost as if Wise didn't know what to do once the story was wrapping up, but like she had more to tell with the flashbacks. I would say it honestly might have benefitted from being two stories: one that tells the story of Wendy and the asylum, and another that involves Jane being taken to Neverland. I understand why Wise did it this way, but it did affect the pace significantly. Second, I feel there was not enough of Michael, John, and even Ned (and not enough of Mary - a new character meant to parallel Tiger Lily - and Tiger Lily herself). I would have liked to see at least one of the brothers join her on the adventure. Thirdly, I would have liked to see or learned the fate of characters like Tinkerbell, some of which is left up to the imagination based on the fate of others.

Finally, I felt the "darkness at the centre of the island" was a letdown. Beyond being poorly explained and almost shoehorned in towards the end, it was almost irrelevant to the story being told. This is not a story about Neverland, though it may seem as though it is on the surface. It is a story about cruelty and kindness, and the fine line that exists between them; it is a story about how you treat people; it is a story about the way it feels to be told you're crazy or that you should let go of things that make you happy and 'grow up'; it is a story about the inhumane nature of mental health treatment in the early 1900s (especially towards women) and the fact homosexuality was seen as a mental affliction; it is a story about being honest with those you care about; it is a story about the painful emotions that come with growing up.

Peter Pan in this story - and the damage he has done to Neverland and its inhabitants - reads almost as a representation of the damage other people do when they tell children to give up on childish things, to grow up and forget about imagination. Not only did Wise's descriptions of what had happened have me feeling uncomfortable, it also made me hurt a little and feel a deep sense of loss for what I'd lost.

Wendy, Darling was an exceptionally deep book that, unlike most other retellings of the story, isn't a dark fae romance. It doesn't make excuses for Peter and his darkness, it doesn't try to hide the horrors of what is really going on in the world and to Wendy as she tries to navigate her way through it. It takes painful steps to make Wendy a real and complex character who you want to root for, to introduce people who (if she let them in) could be good for her and only lift her up, and to tell a story of what people in Wendy's time endured if they were anything less than 'normal'. Though is it really that different from today? Sure, we don't have the same inhumane treatments, but that doesn't mean people are not treated similarly, that they are not forced to give up on their dreams in order to fit into a society that will never understand them.

FINAL RATING: 5 Stars

PURCHASE: Available on amazon.ca, amazon.com, and in all major bookstores.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A.C. Wise is a Canadian author based in the United States. Her debut novel, Wendy, Darling, released in 2021. Since releasing Wendy, Darling, A.C. Wise has won the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, and is a two-time Nebula finalist, a two-time Sunburst finalist, an Aurora finalist, and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. In her spare time, she reportedly "wrangles two corgis and one very opinionated tuxedo cat" amongst other things.

Review
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About the Creator

Meg Ilsley

Born in Australia, I moved to Canada in 2013 where I live with my four cats and two snakes. I have a Certificate in Creative Writing, am pursuing a Diploma of Graphic Design, and am an amateur author. Find me on Goodreads or Instagram.

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