As a quick reminder, we only have a little time before our Pyrite Printz nominations close, so if you have a book that knocks your socks off this year, you should head over to the comments to let us know!
But the real purpose of this post is to talk about Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Tiger Lily. We’ve got a retelling of Peter Pan that focuses on Tiger Lily. I pretty much snatched this out of Karyn’s hands when it came and haven’t given it back. I wrote about Tiger Lily way back when, mentioning that I wasn’t totally sure about it as a contenda, but that I really loved the way it played with the source material (more on that soon!). At this point, it’s got four starred reviews, so it’s an auto-contenda.
There’s a lot that worked in this book. Tinkerbell’s narration is elegant and enchanting. The descriptions of Neverland are dark, enthralling; reading it aloud makes it sound like a magical place. It’s a dangerous and forbidding world; the magic here has no kindness and no love. Maeryn, the mermaid, is not quite a human but not an animal either; the mermaids are sort of like faeries in folklore: magical, unfriendly, amoral — like Neverland itself. There are strong characterizations; Tiger Lily, Tinkerbell, and Peter Pan are all complicated and interesting.
Tiger Lily is most interesting in the ways in which it plays with the original source material (Karyn mentioned this earlier when talking CNV). “Original” is somewhat tricky here, since Peter Pan’s evolution has deep roots. There’s the Disney movie, but before that there was a play which went through different versions, and before even that, there was Peter Pan as a minor character in another novel. I might be forgetting some of that, or getting the dates mixed up; I took an awesome Fantasy Lit class in college, but that was a long time ago (caveat done now, promise). The point I am making is that there are some dark roots mixed in with the happy Disney version that dominates pop culture. Anderson does a great job restoring that darkness and danger to Neverland, and giving characters sharp edges and unquiet hearts. As Karyn summed up so briefly, originally, Peter Pan was about loneliness and loss, and those ideas lie at the heart of this book, too. Tiger Lily, Peter, Tink — and Hook and Tik Tok and Pine Sap — stand apart, are outcast in some way. And this is a story about endings, too. (“In some places, there is something ultimately good about endings. In Neverland that is not the case.”) The endings here are all cruel — love is lost, trust is lost, hearts are lost. Peter Pan is also about the heartlessness and the casual cruelty of childhood. Anderson makes these themes work for the teen characters, too; they are catastrophically careless with each other (“they had all broken each other”).
There are some issues with the book. Some of the characters are not as finely drawn. Smee, recast as a serial killer, just didn’t have enough menace and Tiger Lily’s confrontation with him didn’t have any suspense as a result. Wendy was dull and was more of a device than a fully realized character. Anderson used her to contrast with Tiger Lily (feminine vs not, sweet vs cruel, prissy vs fun), and that was really problematic. The girl hate was unfortunate (to me, personally), but it also pushed the story into uncomfortable territory. Because really? We’re going there? White vs brown? Beautiful vs “a beast”? And I’m moving into dangerously me-me-meeeee territory, here, too, but I did have a Moment when Tik Tok died because: really? It’s 2012 and the genderqueer character dies? Still? Again? Really? Let’s just make a pact to knock this off right now, OK?
Pine Sap has a little of the undeveloped Wendy problem, too — he’s not really an interesting enough foil for Peter. He’s a little too perfect (albeit sweet). And the Neverland pirates don’t bring quite enough menace as a group. Although this would never be mistaken as an adventure story, I needed a little more danger for our hero and her Lost Boys.
In the end, the Printz process is about narrowing down. When I read it earlier in the year, I thought this one was lovely and might have a little more staying power. But as the year has taken shape, I’ve found other books that I believe are stronger, better reads. What say you?