So I finished Tiger Lily, and it was a remarkable book.
The novel is a meditation on growth and change, both when it’s constantly present and when it’s conspicuously absent. Much of the change that happens in the novel is negative and unwelcome, but much of it is also positive, necessary, and no less terrifying. The novel also shows us that a lack of change can be equally troubling: Just look at what’s happened to Neverland’s Ancients, or the wrongness of Peter’s (and Neverland’s) curse of never growing up.
Speaking of Neverland, what a place! Far from the idyllic island of the Disney film, this Neverland is full of unexpected and dark dangers, and despite its size, Anderson’s prose gives a feeling of closeness, nearing claustrophobia. You get the sense that all the action is happening in a very confined space, evoking the presence of a stage (perhaps a reference to Peter Pan’s popularity in the theater world). This same closeness and intimacy also gives the prose a hushed feeling. This and the paramount importance of staying hidden to stay safe in Neverland forces you to read at a whisper, making the characters seem even more immediate and the sparks of action that much more a jarring and troubling surprise.
Conversely, the beautiful descriptions in the novel evoke images straight out of painterly classic children’s book illustrations. One particular moment in which the mud-covered shadow of Peter greets a mermaid in a lagoon stands out as a particularly vivid scene.
The decision to use Tinkerbell as a narrator is a clever one: while Tinkerbell’s narration is limited, her ability to “read” thoughts and feelings makes sure the reader knows Peter and Tiger Lily more than they know themselves, and gives us important background information on other characters and shenanigans as well. The presence of a narrator literally “above” much of the action again evokes the feeling of a stage, or a theater in the round.
Character-wise, Tiger Lily reminds me much of Katniss. Lonely and prideful, Tiger Lily has spent her life being strong in the face of taunts and being even stronger for the benefit of other people. As a result, she’s very closed-off, stubborn, and unable to express or trust the feelings of her heart. This trait made me as frustrated with her at times as I was frustrated with Katniss, but Tiger Lily’s character never felt like a ripoff or a pale copy: she is authentic and herself, even if she isn’t quite sure who that is. Peter Pan is just as intriguing a character: hunted and terrified, but also (like Tiger Lily) too conscious of his pride and responsibilities to others to show it, he’s also perhaps the most innocent person in Neverland, and that innocence makes him alluring, vulnerable, and dangerously conflicted.
The novel was bittersweet the whole way through, and truly moving. You feel it all: the chilling revelations about Smee (I can never look at him the same way again - comic relief character my ass), Tiger Lily’s pain as she watches Wendy be someone for Peter that she cannot, and the heavy burden of Tiger Lily’s own responsibilities to some detestable denizens of her tribe and her few loyal but damaged friends. The novel is a quick read but one that lingers in the mind, giving you plenty of tough questions to chew on.