Wendy, Darling Book Review
Updated: Sep 7, 2022
It's time to return to Neverland, book lovers! But it won't be all fun and games. Today marks the first post in this month's adventure theme on the blog, and I chose to read Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise—a gothic retelling full of dark themes and assorted dangers.
Genre: Fantasy / Fairytale Retelling
Category: Cozy Read
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RATING: 3.5/5 Stars
Plot: 3/5 stars
Characters: 3.5/5 stars
World: 3.5/5 stars
"Loving something means having something to lose."
Wendy Darling knows this all too well—she’s lost her childhood, her way to Neverland, her parents, her connection with her brothers . . .
Now, nearly thirty years after her adventures in Neverland, Peter has returned in search of a Mother. But it isn't Wendy he whisks away; it's her daughter Jane. Wendy's determined to show Peter exactly what it is to be a mother, though he won't like what he sees. However, when she gets to Neverland, Wendy is shocked at what her childhood fantasy has become.
"Mothers cook and tell stories, but the best thing is that mothers scare monsters away."
The monster at the heart of Neverland is not what Wendy or Jane expects. Sometimes monsters wear the faces of people we love.
Though Wendy, Darling isn't as full of adventure as I hoped, and I missed having the mermaids and pirates around, I still enjoyed this darker retelling with its interesting takes and dual POV.
My biggest complaints are the lengthy chapters (I prefer books with easier-to-reach stopping points), a handful of typos, and the constant reference to playing “follow the leader."
The story shifts between Wendy's current perspective, flashbacks of her life between visits to Neverland, and Jane's perspective as she's forced into a world and role she wants no part of—and everyone involved has heartbreaking stories.
Wendy's a strong woman after losing her parents, being sent to an asylum by her brothers, tortured at said asylum, forced into an arranged marriage, and now enduring her daughter's kidnapping by her childhood friend. It's rubbed off on Jane; she's still young and has spent much of her time in Neverland being controlled. Despite being in a "child's ectopic," the horrors Jane faces in Neverland force her to grow up much faster than she should have.
Wise's take on Peter is exciting; he's dangerous, mercurial, and at times downright scary. While it's thrilling, part of me was sad to see him cast as such a deadly villain capable of horrendous deeds . . . much like in ABC's Once Upon a Time.
His Lost Boys aren't much better; most are animalistic in their own ways. But then there's sweet Timothy who's afraid of Peter and his brothers, yet tries to hold onto who he was despite the terrors that haunt him. I just wanted to hold this poor baby.
As far as the side characters go, I think Mary White Dog—a Blackfoot woman Wendy meets as an adult—is my favorite. She's mischievous, empathic, fierce, and a good friend to Wendy. I was glad to see her get the happy ending she deserved.
We also see the return of Tiger Lily, who's been through some serious stuff herself; she arguably has it worst out of all the women.
As far as the men go, it's hard to tell who had it worse: Michael, who came home from the war physically and spiritually broken; John, who had to assume responsibility for both his wounded brother and his "crazed" sister; or Ned, Wendy's husband, whose overbearing father (and society) made him feel as though he must hide one of the most integral parts of himself.
Wise's Neverland is both beautiful and haunting with its impossible landscapes and hidden secrets. I'd hoped to see pirates and mermaids in this retelling, but their fates lent a great deal to the chilling aspects of the story.
Wise also shows that reality can be just as terrifying, especially if you're a woman with strong opinions, are mentally unwell, or queer and/or a person of color. While the story takes place over a century ago, many of the themes are still relevant to current society.
Wendy, Darling is a delightfully dark take on a beloved childhood tale that's made for snuggling up to in the darkness. While it isn't a book that knocked my socks off, it was definitely enjoyable. I'd recommend this book to fans of Peter Pan and/or retellings (especially gothic versions), as well as anyone wanting a book with Native representation. There is LGBT+ representation, but it's not prominent in the story.
That's all for now, folks! Thanks for tuning into another Coffee, Book, and Candle review. If you've read this book, let me know what you thought of it in the comments below or on social media. We're always lurking around bookstagram and Twitter!