Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review: TIGER LILY by Jodi Lynn Anderson

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.
Here's the big take-away up front: I liked this book, but it took some doing getting into the story, because it wasn't nearly what I expected. So, in order to be a kind reviewer, I'm going to try to prepare you all in a manner that is as spoiler-free as possible (which isn't to say absolutely spoiler-free).

I don't even know where to begin. I can't even think of one point where things went the way I expected. I mean, Tiger Lily and Peter Pan were in it, yes. That's one thing. But beyond that? And even with that point, the book is about Tiger Lily, but it's narrated by Tinker Bell. Oh, and that's not her real name, but rather the name that Peter gives her.
I mean, when you hear that there's a book about Peter Pan out, what do you expect? Magic? Adventure? Happiness? Child-like joy? Was that just me, then? Because there's none of that in this story.

Oh, but don't stop reading. I was so flummoxed by my thwarted expectations that I nearly tossed the book aside. I almost did, and I'm glad I didn't.

When I first started, this book didn't feel like a YA book to me. It felt like an adult book. Someone much smarter than I am might be able to succinctly express the difference in tone between the typical "adult literature" book and the typical "young adult" book, but I can't. To me, adult books tend to wax philosophical. They talk about lofty things in a back-of-the-nose voice and deal in many more abstract ideas than YA books. Not that YA books don't do those things also; they just devote less time to them. Well, except for Tiger Lily, because Tiger Lily (the first half, at least) felt very "adult."

This is a very bleak book, mainly because there is no magic. Everything magical from the original story is explained. Everything. The boys flying, how the Englanders get to the island, the ticking crocodile, even how Hook lost his hand. There are only three spots of magic: the fairies, the mermaids, and the fact that Neverlanders don't age past a certain point. But even these three points are treated as matter-of-course rather than something special. The fairies and mermaids are simply species, like dragonflies and trout, nothing special The fact that the people don't age is just like the fact that hair grows. It just happens, that's all.

There also is no one who is 100% good or 100% bad. Actually, the lack of absolutes is a key theme in the book (which irks me just a bit, but that's another matter). If you're looking for Tiger Lily to be a true-blue heroine, forget it. Peter? Nope. The only one who comes close, surprisingly, is Tinker Bell. Yes, that jealous little punk we all know and hate. (Just me? Was I the only one who hated her in the original story?)

I'll never be able to believe this movie again.
I loved Tink by the end. The nicest thing about retellings is they force the reader to study the story presented from a different viewpoint. I'd never considered before who was shaping the original Pan story, but I realized while reading Tiger Lily that the "who" must have been Wendy. I took her word that Tiger Lily was a vixen, that Tink was just a jealous little twit, that the boys really needed her, that everything would turn out okay. But, according to Tinker Bell and Ms. Anderson, none of that was really true - Wendy only believed it to be true.

I'm going to have to stew over this book a few days, I think. Once I figured out what to expect of this book, I really enjoyed it. There was danger and intrigue and betrayal. I also had to work on separating the story from the beliefs Ms. Anderson tries to push (about right and wrong, ethnocentrism, colonialism, gender issues, etc.).

If you want a more concise and clearcut list of what to look for, try Bookalicious' review. Really, I was pouting a bit that she did her review before mine, because she nails it.

So now that you know what to expect, I say read the book. It will make you sad in places, destroy your fantasy in places, and make you mad in places, but it's worth it. But dagnabit, between Tiger Lily and Code Name Verity, I have GOT to get my hands on a copy of the original story again.

Lastly, I leave you with my favorite quote from the book:
"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."
Points Added For: Tinker Bell, Peter Pan (really, he's spectacular), a depressingly realistic Neverland, giving me some happiness in the end.

Points Subtracted For: Being a mite preachy, adding a few irrelevant threads (was Belladonna really necessary?), thwarting my expectations.

Good For Fans Of: The Peter Pan tale, melancholy coming-of-age stories, seeing magical stories translated into real life, murderous mermaids.

Notes For Parents: I don't remember any language, but there is some violence (people die), suicide, murder, and drinking. There is also a brief paragraph that hints at a sexual assault, but the description is vague. One character is transvestite, and various beliefs are espoused concerning gender, societal norms, etc.

Disclaimer: I won my paperback ARC from Harper Collins.

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