by Austin Chant
Ten years ago, Peter Pan left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his adolescent dreams of boyhood and resigning himself to life as Wendy Darling. Growing up, however, has only made him realize how inescapable his identity as a man is.
But when he returns to Neverland, everything has changed: the Lost Boys have become men, and the war games they once played are now real and deadly. Even more shocking is the attraction Peter never knew he could feel for his old rival, Captain Hook—and the realization that he no longer knows which of them is the real villain.
Peter Darling is probably one of the books I’ve had the most difficulty rating this year. You might look at 3 stars and think ‘oh, so it’s not a great book’ but the truth is there’s nothing wrong with this book, it just wasn’t a book for me.
I could have known that from the start, if I’m being honest. I’ve never been drawn to Peter Pan; I’m a huge Disney lover, and yet I don’t think I’ve seen Disney’s Peter Pan all the way through, and I’m not a fan of the original book at all. That was one of the reasons I wanted to try this retelling, because if I didn’t like J.M. Barrie’s rendition of this classic story, then perhaps I’d like Austin Chant’s version.
And I did! This book’s definitely made me think about how I rate books, which is a discussion for another time, but do I rate a book highly, even if I didn’t love it as much as I’ve loved other books, because I know other people will like it more? I’m not the kind of reviewer who can do that; this is a personal book blog, so if I don’t love a book I can’t rate it highly.
I didn’t dislike Peter Darling by any means, though, and I actually loved the premise. This is an own voices trans retelling of Peter Pan, in which Peter and Wendy Darling are one in the same – or rather, Wendy is Peter’s deadname. Peter has grown up with his family desperately wanting him to be a young lady, and when he can’t take it anymore he calls for Tinkerbell to take him back to Neverland, the one place he could always be himself.
When he gets there, though, he’s reunited with Captain James Hook, and Peter realises that, perhaps, he doesn’t truly hate his nemesis at all…
I loved how Chant captured the darkness and uneasiness that’s in the original tale; neither Peter nor Hook are particularly likeable all of the time, they’ve both said and done terrible things – particularly to each other, and Neverland itself is a fairly sinister place where you’re likely to forget who you ever were. Peter thinks that’s what he wants – after all, why would he leave Neverland when the rest of the world won’t accept him for who he is? – but there’s only so much make-believe even Peter can take.
I really enjoyed Chant’s version of the faeries, too, who are particularly insect-like; Tinkerbell has several eyes, and they’re often mentioned as having stingers. Given how much Tinkerbell has been Disney-fied, it was nice to see a different version of her entirely.
Chant’s rendition of Peter I also liked a lot. He’s often quite irritating – but then, the original Peter Pan is also incredibly irritating – but he’s so understandable, and, reading this, I got him in a way I haven’t before. I found the way Chant discussed bodies and body image, and how people are expected to have a certain type of body to be a certain gender, very powerful. When I think of Peter Pan from now on, I’m pretty sure this is the version I’ll think of.
I wasn’t quite as keen on the romance in this book. I love where the two characters ultimately end up, and I loved seeing Hook humanised when he’s so often a comedic villain, but I think I would have liked the relationship between these two even more if the book had been longer. The two of them try to kill each other more than once, and I think I just needed a bit more time with them both to be in love with them as a romantic couple. That said, they’re a very sweet couple by the end of the novel and I want only good things for them.
Ultimately, if you’re a Peter Pan fan I think you’ll love this retelling and, even if you’re not, it’s still a book I’d recommend checking out. I want to read more stories featuring trans characters at their centre – I don’t reach for them enough – and knowing this one was written by an own voices author made me feel like I was in very safe hands.
So give it a try – second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning!