I’m a sucker for stories told from another character’s perspective, so I was intrigued by the idea of Tiger Lily. It more than exceeded my expectations.
All you really need to know going into this is that it’s the story of the Indian Princess Peter Pan loved before Wendy ever came into the picture, told from the point-of-view of Tinkerbell. But I’ll give you the Goodreads blurb anyway:
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.
Anderson’s conception of Neverland as an actual place on a map where one could become shipwrecked anchored this fantasy in a more realistic world than that of the original Peter Pan. You don’t have to be able to fly to get there—and Peter and the Lost Boys ability is simply an illusion, achieved by a system they have built in the trees. The aging phenomenon that is unique to Neverland still exists, but with a twist. People of Tiger Lily’s tribe age until a life changing event occurs, and then they stop aging. Other inventive twists made this book delightful to read—Hook is a sad old man, driven crazy by his obsession with Peter Pan, and Smee is a reluctant serial killer who only kills those he admires, which brings tears to his eye.
What made the story above average for me was the subtle anti-colonial message and rejection of cisnormativity (that idea that an individuals sex should match his gender identity). The I don’t think YA authors are obliged to teach lessons with their novels. Most efforts to do that seem contrived and forced. Still, I can’t help but appreciate when a story manages to be completely entertaining and well-written, but also speak to way of approaching the world that resonates with me. I fell in love with how this book portrays subversive gender roles and a critique of colonialism.
Tik Tok, the shaman leader of the tribe who raises Tiger Lily after finding her under her namesake flower as a baby, was by far my favorite character. I appreciated the way he viewed the world and his curious fascination. I loved his gentle manner and calm wisdom. I also loved his clock: “…the Englanders divided the endlessness of the world into seconds and minutes and hours, and Tik Tok thought this was wonderful,” (p. 9). If you ever wandered how that crocodile came to have a clock inside him, Anderson gives you an explanation.
There is always something about a doomed love affair that always resonates with me. The reader knows at the beginning that Tiger Lily and Peter won’t stay together forever. Even before she arrives, we know Wendy is going to show up. This doesn’t diminish the feelings that Tiger Lily and Peter have for each other, however. When most YA novels have the hero and heroine falling in true love at such a young age, it’s refreshing to read a story where both characters acknowledge what they have meant to each other but still find happiness in a new relationship. Most teens won’t live happily ever after with their first boy or girlfriend, so it’s nice to have that reality reflected, even if it is in such a fantastical tale.
Tiger Lily is a fantastic retelling of a favorite tale, and Anderson manages to make it her own. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of re-imagined classics, but this book is also suitable for kids just checking out young adult fiction for the first time.