Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .
Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn’t believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.
Peter is unlike anyone she’s ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland’s inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she’s always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.
With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it’s the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who’s everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.
Where do I begin? I loved this story. Truly, madly, deeply loved.
Because this story is entirely new, it’s hard to go into details without spoilers. However, I will do my best to articulate why and how this re-imagining caught my attention, reined me in, and held me captive from beginning to end.
I’ve read the original Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie, and I’ve also seen the various movies that came afterward, the most popular being the Disney version, which I’ve watched about a zillion times. I know the story inside and out and have long since held certain characters as my favorites. However, reading Tiger Lily has inspired me to see the characters in a whole different light and to reconsider my loyalties.
Tiger Lily, more than anything, is a coming-of-age story. To be clear, it is a prequel of sorts that focuses not on Peter Pan or on the Darling children, but on the enigmatic Tiger Lily. Her story is narrated by my favorite faerie, Tinker Bell, which I thought was a genius move. This is not the care-free, light-hearted tale we all know. Instead, it is heart-breaking and melancholy, yet utterly bewitching. Tink said it best:
“Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love story, but not like any you’ve ever heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win.”
Neverland is dark and bleak, full of monstrous pirates, murderous mermaids, ferocious forest monsters, and a mischevious group of motherless boys led by the mysterious “Peter Pan”. Tiger Lily is the orphaned adoptee of the village shaman, Tik Tok, and Tinker Bell is her constant, yet largely unacknowledged companion.
Tiger Lily’s character really won my heart. She’s stubborn, prideful, and a bit conceited, but she’s also courageous, caring, and loyal. She marches to the beat of her own drum, but is also resigned to the expectations of her village. Then, two important things happen to her: first, she rescues a man whose ship was wrecked off the coast of Neverland; then, she meets Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Despite being unrelated, these two happenings later converge to change the course of her life forever.
“I’m not myself,” she offered, guiltily. She softened around Tik Tok, and when she did she was, for those rare moments, girlish.
He smiled. “You can never say that. You’re just a piece of yourself right now that you don’t like.”
Peter’s character in Tiger Lily was a refreshing change of pace from his other personifications. He’s wild yet refined, cold yet loving, confident yet insecure. He wants so badly to be good, but he’s still a boy, and therefore unpredictable and stubborn. The Lost Boys look up to him and he loves them in his own, clumsy way. It was breath-taking to see Peter through Tink’s eyes. It was clear that she loved him dearly.
“How can I describe Peter’s face, the pieces of him that stick to my heart? Peter sometimes looked aloof and distant; sometimes his face was open and soft as a bruise. Sometimes he looked completely at Tiger Lily, as if she were the point on which all the universe revolved, as if she were the biggest mystery of life, or as if she were a flame and he couldn’t not look even though he was scared. And sometimes it would all disappear into carelessness, confidence, amusement, as if he didn’t need anyone or anything on this earth to feel happy and alive.”
The relationship that develops between Tiger Lily and Peter is tentative and sweet and real. They appear to be opposites, with Tiger Lily being distrustful and quiet and Peter being so open and full of life; however, they are more alike than they seem. Neither of them fit society’s idea of a “good boy” or a “good girl”, and while they both have good intentions, they do make some pretty big mistakes. Overall, though, theirs is a believeable “first love” story and I cheered them on with my whole heart.
You may be asking, “Where’s Captain Hook? Mr. Smee?” They were there, too, in their resplendent, drunken glory. I always secretly loved Mr. Smee, but I felt sorry for Captain Hook. We do learn a bit more about Captain Hook in Tiger Lily, and while he’s still a villain, it’s clear that he was not always a bad guy, and is not the only danger Peter and Tiger Lily have to worry about.
“It didn’t fit her ideas of who was bad, and who was good, and what was a happy ending, and what wasn’t.”
I experienced a gamut of emotions while reading this book. There are very heavy subjects addressed throughout, including death, sexual orientation, religion, abuse, and self-acceptance. I know it may seem a bit odd that these subjects would be in a YA novel, but I thought they were appropriate within the story arc, and incredibly thought-provoking. I had to set the book down a few times to really absorb what I had just read, which I believe indicates a truly great book.
There is no happily-ever-after for all of the characters in Tiger Lily, but that’s what makes the story so precious and heart-wrenching. The last two pages made me cry like a baby. Tinker Bell was certainly the best narrator for this story. Because she loved both Peter and Tiger Lily, I feel that we, as readers, get to see the very best and the very worst of them – which will only make you love and appreciate them more.
Raw, emotional, and unpredictable, Tiger Lily is not for everyone, and I can’t definitively say that you will love it. I do think this is a story that, regardless of how you feel about it, will stick with you for a long time. It has moved up in the ranks as one of my all-time favorite books, and I can’t see that ever changing.