Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Sometimes I think that maybe we are just stories."


 4.5 out of 5 stars

I've got a confession to make. Well, two confessions, actually, one big and one small. The first, small confession is: This is the first book I've read written by Jodi Lynn Anderson. I've heard of her 'Peaches' series, probably read a blurb or two about one of the books, but none of them have ever made it to my “To Read” shelves. However, my big confession is this: I've never read the original Peter Pan (under any of its titles) by J.M. Barrie. *waits for the inevitable public castigation* I know, I know, it's terrible of me; they're those books I've always meant to read yet somehow seem to get put off by something else. (Hey, I just found out the two books are free for my Kindle! Woo-hoo! I've snapped those puppies up, right quick.) I've seen the Disney version (yeah, I know how Disney tends to twist around a story), but that was probably about two decades ago (yeesh!). I've seen the 2003 film 'Peter Pan', which I thought was really good (then again, I'm a sucker for Jason Isaacs), 'Finding Neverland', which was maudlin, but come on, it's Johnny Depp, and, yes, I've seen 'Hook' (and liked it! So there). I've read the revamped novels written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (well, the first one anyway) and I recently saw the Syfy miniseries 'Neverland' which I thought was rather interesting. Wow, that's a lot of Peter Pan crap I've seen without having read the original story. Weird. Anyway, so without having taken in Barrie's version, I still have a general idea of what he was trying to express and the ambiguity he used while doing so (heck, he never even really described what Peter looked like; it's other authors and adapters who have fleshed out 'the boy who wouldn't grow up'). What I remember most from mulling over all the different adaptations I've seen and the faint memories of the Disney film is the rather shoddy treatment Tiger Lily always seemed to receive. When she was around before Wendy, she was the bee's knees; when Wendy came, Tiger Lily became an afterthought, a second-rate time filler who became unnecessary next to Wendy's English-rose daintiness. What a crock! Which is why Jodi Lynn Anderson's latest novel has finally come to my attention. I've always had a thing for the underdog and the idea of telling such a classic tale from Tiger Lily's perspective, a character who is probably the patron saint of those undervalued characters, intrigued the heck out of me.

Okay, so the movie wasn't really faithful to the book, but, come on, they're adorable!

Tiger Lily, the novel, is quite haunting. It's a story told through the eyes of another, rather neglected Peter Pan character, Tinker Bell, and, as Tink tells us right at the beginning, it's a story in which good doesn't win, the girl and boy aren't innocent, and lives are lost. When we meet Tiger Lily, the girl, she's rather awkward and stand-offish, a girl who not only doesn't quite fit into her tribe, the Sky Eaters, she also doesn't quite fit into her skin. The adopted daughter of the tribe's shaman, Tik Tok, who found her under the flower for which he named her, Tiger Lily has grown up rather wild, more animal than human, more boy than girl. The only thing Tiger Lily was afraid of was Pan, the leader of the lost boys and a figure of fright for all the Sky Eaters. Until one day, when Tiger Lily lets down her guard, she's captured by Pan... and finds that more than just her body has been captured by the feral youth. As the story progresses, the lure of Peter Pan grows stronger, tempting Tiger Lily away from her friends, her tribe, and, eventually, even her sense of self. Though many ultimately suffer as a result of her neglect, tragically, it's Tik Tok who suffers the most, and it's only until it's too late that Tiger Lily returns to herself, stronger, wiser, and sadder, and attempts to mend what's been broken.

All the original story elements are there, including how the crocodile got the clock, but seen through the eyes of Tinker Bell, the classic story takes on a new and entirely fresh perspective. What really makes the story resonate is the romance between Tiger Lily and Peter Pan; it explains so much and seems so... right. So much so that when Wendy arrives, you feel Tiger Lily's pain and confusion, and her anger. Even though you know how the story does and should end, as events unfold, you still want things to end differently. You want Peter to stay in Neverland, to end up with Tiger Lily. Tiger Lily, the book, is beautiful and sad and entrancing, and it lets Tiger Lily, the character, live and breath and be more than a simple two-dimensional cartoon. As a story, the novel flows at a perfect pace, with just the right amount of drama and tension and action, in just the right places. The narrative comes alive with deft descriptions and settings, and the dialogue is evocative of each character's individuality: Peter Pan's energy and impatience come through as choppy, almost abrupt sentences; Tiger Lily's reticence and almost predatory stillness is shown in her careful way of speaking. The romance between them is shown in awkward and touching moments, moments which feel real through the spontaneity of Peter's kiss on Tiger Lily's neck or the way she holds onto him, his scent, his wildness, his fragility, even as she knows she must give him up. It's those aching moments of reality which make their romance that much more lyrical... and so heartbreaking. Watching the story unfold through Tinker Bell's eyes, you might imagine, would make scenes feel distant, less intimate. Yet it's the exact opposite: By having Tink's emotions color the narrative, everything is that much deeper, richer. At the beginning of the novel, Tink's affection for Tiger Lily adds warmth to a character who, had she been the narrator, would most likely come off as cold and distant. That affection for Tiger Lily lasts throughout the novel, even after Tiger Lily and Tink meet Peter Pan and Tink herself falls in love with Peter, her emotions towards Tiger Lily thereafter warring between devotion and jealousy. In a way, Tink acts as first Tiger Lily's, then, to a certain degree, Peter's advocate, not quite apologizing for why they do the things they do or act the way they act, but instead showing us the underlying reasons for those behaviors and asking the reader to understand them and, in some cases, to forgive them. This doesn't stop her, though, from acting as an external conscience for Tiger Lily and Peter; since she can't talk (a facet of fairy evolution which Tink explains early on), she tries to stop their bad behavior by stinging them, biting them, tugging at their clothes, and doing anything else a little bug like her is capable of doing. As a result, Tink is more than just a narrator, she's an active participant in the story; along the way, we learn just as much about Tinker Bell and her history as we do the others.

Judging by this novel, it's no wonder Anderson's 'Peaches' series is so popular and acclaimed.

Read May 22-June 4, 2012
Originally reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program June 7, 2012

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