Book 24: Darling Girl by Liz Michalski
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
In this beautiful, grounded, and darkly magical modern-day reimagining of J. M. Barrie's classic, to save her daughter's life one woman must take on the infamous Peter Pan--who is not the innocent adventurer the fairy tales make him out to be . . .
Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy--yes, that Wendy. She's running a successful skincare company; her son, Jack, is happy and healthy; and the tragedy of her past is well behind her . . . until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, has gone missing from the estate where she's been long tucked away. And, worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but more dangerous than anyone could imagine.
Eden's disappearance is a disaster for more reasons than one. She has a rare condition that causes her to age rapidly--ironic, considering her father is the boy who will never grow up--which also makes her blood incredibly valuable. It's a secret that Holly is desperate to protect, especially from Eden's half-brother, Jack, who knows nothing about his sister or the crucial role she plays in his life. Holly has no one to turn to--her mother is the only other person in the world who knows that Peter is more than a story, but she refuses to accept that he is not the hero she's always imagined. Desperate, Holly enlists the help of Christopher Cooke, a notorious ex-soldier, in the hopes of rescuing Eden before it's too late . . . or she may lose both her children.
Darling Girl brings all the magic of the classic Peter Pan story to the present, while also exploring the dark underpinnings of fairy tales, grief, aging, sacrifice, motherhood, and just how far we will go to protect those we love.
"stop playing and help me find my shadow"
I'll start off by saying, I came into this book having completely forgotten most of the plot of Peter pan and I will say, it was perfectly fine to do so. I did go back and watch the cartoon about halfway into the book because there were some parallel characters that came up and I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything. that said, I think the author does a wonderful job of not ostracizing anyone who has not seen/read Peter pan before.
I was really excited to get to this book because I liked the concept of having a lighthearted storybook character revealed as a much more sinister being. this book really heightened the darker elements of Peter pan and I wholly appreciated that.
in order for me to fully review this book, this review from here forward will contain a ton of spoilers...
~ Spoilers Ahead! ~
surviving on pixie dust alone
what disappointed me, though, was the lack of follow through with the character parallels. there were so many opportunities to draw in those story lines and plot points and weave them into a more cohesive and rich world. there was a lot of build up to create characters who, very obviously, were born of the original story [Christopher cook = Captain Hook and a girl named nan who was not a dog, etc.]
while the minor parallel characters' potentials were unfulfilled other, more important characters, seemed flat. Jane's jealousy for holly's encounter with Peter was overwhelming. her narcissism really highlighted the type of mother she was to holly and how holly grew into the woman and mother she became. throughout the whole plot, jane was poised to be the villain. a woman who would sell her own granddaughter to meet Peter pan. I was surprised at her reaction when holly divulged how eden was conceived as a result of peter's rape. while I appreciated the deserved compassion she showed holly, it did not seem the right fit for how her character was shaped. I'm not sure if her character was given enough room for growth throughout the book to allow her that reaction or that compassion.
plot wise: there was so much build up to finding eden and peter and build up to what her blood might be capable of doing, but it felt like it stopped just short of what it could have been. a reimagining of Neverland. a true neverland as Peter has created it in the wake of Wendy's visit. there could have been more. even if we only saw it in a periphery. additionally, Peter himself was a caricature of the villain he could have
but the end? the end is what sealed it for me. while I did enjoy the fact that Jane was the one who killed Peter, I felt like we deserved to see it. it was a nice touch of irony that she finally gets what she's always wanted; she gets to meet him as a young version of herself and that version of her is who kills him. not being able to see her defeat him is a lost opportunity. I think it skipped over our opportunity to witness her redemption. it could have been the affirming moment for her that Peter was not the angel she believed him to be and her choosing her family over what she wanted most. and, while it was very poetic that she was the one who kills him, we also don't get the big fight between him and Captain Hook, which further makes that character's parallel useless. hearing the defeat of Peter secondhand after it took place diluted the impact that it would have had.
this book left me so unsatisfied. there were so many moments where I was excited to move forward only to be met with scenes that felt unnecessary and an ending that felt cheated. I really wanted to like this book, but it just didn't do it for me.