Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson is a young adult fantasy re-telling of the Peter Pan story, originally written by J.M. Barrie. Told from the perspective of a tiny faerie named Tinker Belle, the book is about a young adolescent Indigenous girl named Tiger Lily. Viewed as an outcast, Tiger Lily is a very lonely girl, who rarely speaks. Then one day she encounters a mysterious and magical boy named Peter Pan, a boy that her tribe has warned her to stay away from. Slowly they develop a deep friendship that grows into something much more. The strength of their love is tested when various dangers arise, including Tiger Lily’s betrothal to another from her tribe. But nothing is as dangerous as the arrival of an English girl named Wendy Darling. Tiger Lily quickly learns that the most dangerous of all creatures is the heart in the midst of true love.
I have had this book in my possession for years. Recently, I had been feeling the tendrils of a reading slump sneaking around my neck, yet again, so I decided to pick this up, hoping for a quick and easy read. I read the whole damn thing in the span of three hours because I couldn’t put it down. Believe me, I tried.
The book is told via the perspective of Tinker Bell. I loved that! It felt completely original to me, and was a refreshing change of pace when compared to other Peter Pan re-tellings that I have read this year. Because we see and experience everything from Tink’s point-of-view, the overall tone of the novel felt rather scandalous and provocative, at least to an extent. She would watch Peter and Tiger Lily interacting with one another, observe the inevitable evolution of their feelings, and make assumptions based on what she perceived. This is fascinating for two reasons.
Firstly, Tinker Bell grows as an individual with Tiger Lily and all of the obstacles that she faces. Faeries are sensationally empathetic creatures, so the various feelings that affect Tiger Lily also greatly impact Tinker Bell. I really enjoyed watching the different ways that these two ladies grew and matured whilst undergoing rather similar emotional developments. Secondly, Tinker Bell is an honest little critter. She is very frank about her own romantic interest in Peter as well as how that influences some of her behaviours in regards to Tiger Lily. It establishes a level of trust between the reader and our narrator so we know that whatever she’s telling us is the truth, or damn near close to it.
Because we have a third-person perspective, the novel is told in chapters that are reminiscent of diary entries. Each chapter shares a particular day, or a specific set of events that took place, all the way until the climax and finale. I could imagine Tiger Lily being a great book to read out loud in that sense. It also made it a wonderfully easy and mesmerising reading experience.
Regardless of how effortless the prose felt, the narrative is marvellously story-rich. Lush descriptions of the setting, cultures, and various people living on Neverland, as well as the phenomenal world-building, all helped to add multiple layers of depth and dimension to an overall straightforward fairy tale. This specific re-imagining was an exquisitely written fantasy tale perfect for young adult audiences. In fact, I believe it’s a great introduction to the fantasy genre as a whole for any youngsters who may be interested in checking it out to see if it’s their cup of tea. Each main character is well-developed. As I mentioned earlier, the world-building is excellent. It’s immersive and detailed without being overwhelming in scope. There are fantastical creatures with a dash of adventuring, and a slow-burn building of relationships that provides a proper balance of captivating intrigue and romance. All of these are fundamental facets of good storytelling, especially in regards to fantasy.
In addition, the characters are young and naive who learn to grow up and mature via the challenging and at-times terrible obstacles they face, such as death and insecurities. These flaws make them more realistic and engaging. It also helps evoke some intense, mostly bittersweet, emotions. The immaturity of being a teenager quickly blooms into wisdom of adulthood with each new difficult life lesson.
Even though there were many aspects to enjoy about Tiger Lily, and even though I couldn’t stop reading the damn book, there was something missing from it. I have no idea what that was, but the entire time I felt as if I was waiting for something in particular to happen that never came to pass. The tale remains straightforward regardless of the depth added to it. As an avid reader of adult fantasy, if I had to take a gander, I would say that I was hoping (or awaiting) a crazy plot twist that never popped up. On some level, it left me slightly unsatisfied.
I also didn’t care for the ending. Objectively, the finale of Tiger Lily was perfect for the story that it told. It was despairing, yet superbly adequate. But I didn’t like it. I just wish for once the brown girl would get the guy. I’m so tired of reading stories where the brown girl is depicted as being lesser in quality, whether she’s “not as pretty” or “not as smart.” Is it really too much to ask for a person of colour, a brown skinned human being, to have their happy ending? When I saw that this was not going to happen, my hopes felt completely shattered and my interest waned a bit.
Overall, it’s not a bad re-imagining of Peter Pan at all. Like I said, it’s rich with depth and thought-provoking elements. I highly recommend this to fans of fantasy looking for an easy and absorbing read. I simply wished for a different ending. Depicting people of colour as inferior will always knock off a star for me.
3.5 mermaids out of 5!