Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise
As a child, the darker elements of the Peter Pan story eluded me. There was a tv show adaptation that gave me nightmares and I remember getting chills when Peter's children are kidnapped in Hook, but it was always Captain Hook that scared me. Him and that relentless crocodile. It wasn't until I read the original book that I realized that the truly scary person was Peter himself.
It's been a few years, but I still remember the darkness in the story. As an immortal child, Peter is inconstant and casually cruel. In a battle he will turn on the other Lost Boys, not out of malice, just because he's so caught up in the moment he forgets who the enemy is. When Wendy is in danger, he laughs at the fun of it. And, at the end of the book when he returns to Wendy, he has forgotten who Tinkerbell is.
It's this darkness that A.C. Wise captures so well in her novel. She gives us an adult Wendy who has faced only trauma and persecution since her days in Neverland. Her brothers are able to forget, but she clings to it, even when that belief drives her family to commit her to an institution. When she emerges, she finds the strength to heal and build a life and a family of her own. However, all of that is ruined when Peter returns and kidnaps her daughter.
Wendy must find her inner strength and journey back to Neverland to not only save her daughter, but to confront Peter and what's left of Neverland. Wise's Peter is neither a young boy looking for adventure, nor an abandoned child hungry for a mother. He is a force of nature. Dangerous and wild. Reckless and careless in that way only children can be.
I devoured this book in a matter of days. The format is non-linear, bouncing between the present day, Wendy's past in both Neverland and the asylum, as well as her daughter, Jane's experience in Neverland. The effect is disorienting and keeps the reader on their toes. The tension remains high throughout the book because Peter is unpredictable and even though no one can die in Neverland, there are many fates worse than death.
In Neverland, the horror comes from Peter's relentless drive for youth and fun, but the outside world is no less horrifying. Racism, prejudice, abuse, war, are all dealt with in this book. It's not a happy read, but not all is bleak. The love and connections between Wendy's family, both the one she's born into and the one she creates for herself are strong and heartwarming.
If you've ever felt uneasy about Peter Pan or enjoy dark, unsettling (and beautifully written) reads, pick up this book.