Katiebabs is a self-proclaimed present day bluestocking with her head always in a book. She runs her own book blog called Babbling about Books and More!
At first glance, Wendy Darling: Stars by Colleen Oakes may seem to be another re-telling of Peter Pan, but from Wendy's POV. Colleen does justice to this much beloved children's classic, giving it a darker spin that had me reading straight through because I couldn't stop. J.M. Barrie would be proud. Wendy Darling doesn't read like a typical YA. This feels like literature, much like it was written in the early 20th century. Colleen's writing grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go, leaving the reader with a cliffhanger that will have you anxious for the sequel.
Wendy Darling begins right around the time Peter Pan does. Wendy is the proper 16 year old daughter to upper middle class parents. Even though Wendy is on the cusp of adulthood, she still sleeps in the nursery with her two brothers- John, aged 12, and Michael aged 5. She and Michael are very close, while John keeps to himself, but he's very critical toward Wendy for reasons that aren't really explained. It might have to do with John being the middle child with no real friends and constantly competing with Wendy for his father's attentions. Their father is an accountant and a amateur astronomer who showers his love for the stars on Wendy and John. Wendy has a big secret that if found out will have her shipped off to boarding school. She's having a secret romance with Booth, the son of a bookstore owner. She thinks she loves Booth. He makes her tingle in all the right places. He feels the same and wants to court Wendy openly, but she fears she'll be taken away from Booth forever.
One night while her parents are at a ball, and as she is going to sneak off to see Booth, something strange and magical occurs. A flying boy enters the nursery. He's Peter Pan and wants to take the Darling children on a grand adventure to Neverland. Wendy, like John and Michael, are agog by Peter and accept. Here, only Peter can fly, so the Darling children must hold onto him. Off they go, with the promise of returning home anytime they want.
They end up in Neverland, which is a place of beauty, or so Wendy thinks at first. Peter explains the lay of the land and promises to protect the Darling children from all harm, especially Wendy, who finds him very appealing, so much so that she forgets Booth. As the days pass, she slowly forgets her life in London and her parents, as does her brothers.
Eventually, the Darling children are accepted by Peter's Lost Boys, with the exception of Wendy. The 200 or so orphaned boys are suspicious of Wendy because she's a girl. John's personality changes to the point of cruelty toward her, and Michael doesn't want to be treated a baby. Then there is Tink, the last fairy in Neverland who hates Wendy because she thinks Wendy has stolen Peter's love. A few times she tries to kill Wendy (or so it seems). Then there is Peter who tells larger than life tales about mermaids and pirates, specially the dastardly Captain Hook he has defeated. Peter wants his boys to wage war on the pirates to Wendy's dismay. As Wendy begins to see another side to Neverland, and to Peter, her doubts grow and she wants to go home. But Peter doesn't want her to go. He wants to possess her, to own her and won't accept her rejection. The wonder that was originally Neverland and Peter Pan is now ominous and deadly for Wendy, who has no one to trust now. She is at the mercy of Peter Pan.
Wendy Darling is a much darker side to Peter Pan. Like Wendy, the reader is amazed by Neverland and the seductive Peter, but then it changes quickly in a way that's chilling. The Lost Boys have no guidance or direction unless Peter tells them what to do, which is greedy and selfish. There is constant talk of war and the possibility of death for these children who are under the age of 12. Peter is the oldest, and is like a dictator. He lies, steals and has a sadistic quality to him. He has incredible charm also, which mesmerizes Wendy and almost causes her downfall. She becomes his victim like Tink, but she brushes off the almost Stockholm Syndrome everyone has around her regarding Peter. But by then it might be too late.
There's a sensuality factor here that fits the tone of the novel regarding the initial romance between Peter and Wendy, but it doesn't go too far. There's kissing and some caresses given to Wendy that she accepts from Peter. But as she figures out the truth behind this wicked boy, his passion and "love" for her becomes predatory. What Wendy goes through during the last quarter of the novel will have you holding your breath, especially when someone close to her rejects her outright and tosses her away because she doesn't matter to them.
The last chapter is as close to a horror or thriller novel as you can get. Everything changes because of this, leading to another possible villain, or perhaps Wendy's savior (if you've read Peter Pan fan fiction, you'll have a good idea who I mean)? Whichever way Colleen goes with this tale, I'm totally invested.
Kudos to Colleen for giving the Peter Pan story a new twist where the female character aka the heroine here ends up saving the day not only for herself, but for those she loves.