“Peter walked across her heart, and left his footprints there.”
— Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Reading Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Tiger Lily is a reintroduction to your childhood experience Neverland without the rose-coloured glasses of Disney’s animation. While there are still pirates, mermaids, and fairies to keep the fantasy alive, Anderson’s Neverland is gritty and dark, laced with the same pitfalls, heartaches, and dangers we all know about or have faced as young pubescent adults.
The book is written from Tinkerbell’s point of view, and in this story she is Tiger Lily’s before she is ever Peter’s (If you can really call her anyone’s, Tinkerbell is more of a tiny stalker who becomes too fascinated with Tiger Lily to leave her side). Tiger Lily is fifteen years old at the start of the book. Her only family is her adopted father, Tik Tok and her friends Pine Sap and Moon Eye. Otherwise, Tiger Lily is quite the loner and anything but fragile. Preferring hunting to sitting still and sewing, Tiger Lily is definitely out of place when it comes to the rest of the women in the Skyeater Tribe.
But Tiger Lily’s quest for solitude comes to an abrupt halt the moment she comes, somewhat roughly, into contact with Peter Pan. Unlike in Disney, the Tribe fears Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, viewing them as savage barbarians that will prey on those who go to their side of the woods. However, Tiger Lily’s curiosity overpowers any sense of immediate fear, and she begins to visit Peter and the Lost Boys drawn to them and their reckless ways. She especially begins to fall for Peter, developing a back-and-forth relationship with him that can only be defined as young, unruly love.
Little love spats aren’t the only conflict Tiger Lily encounters. Back home, she is suddenly betrothed to another man, Giant, a distasteful and large boy who is cruel and lusts after poor Moon Eye. There is also the arrival of New Englanders on the island to contend with. At first, there is just a single ship-wrecked victim named Phillip who Tiger Lily nurses back to health, however, another ship arrives later on with more of them, a ship that also happens to be carrying Wendy.
Unlike Tiger Lily, who carefully guards her emotions, Wendy is girly and very open with her affections. Soon the Lost Boys and Peter become very attached to her, and Tiger Lily is at a loss as Peter drifts away and the New Englander’s invade her tribe and enforce new foreign customs upon them. Suddenly nothing is simple and Neverland is anything but a happy fantasy land where no one grows up.
Anderson has created a Neverland that is far more believable than the one nestled in the First Star to the Right. She has pictured it as an undiscovered tropical island, untouched by modernity, where faeries and mermaids still exist simply because they haven’t been found yet. It is especially magnificent the way she captures the problems of colonialism as the New Englanders once again invade what was once unknown and try to assimilate it to themselves. We become first-hand witnesses through Tinkerbell’s eyes as the Skyeater Tribe falls apart when forced to change their beliefs. Tik Tok especially represents this when he is forced to cut his hair and stop wearing dresses, which highlights the problems of the present, and not just the past, as society is introduced those who define themselves as transgender or homosexual. Anderson goes even further by including, subtly, a rape scene between Moon Eye and the lustful Giant. The brief scene is agonizing as we are all too aware that Moon Eye is too small and too fragile to defend herself against the gigantic mass that is Giant. Neverland is both sad and destructive, but this is what makes it plausible, and as a result Neverland has never been darker or more real.
But, Tiger Lily is also about the difficulties of adolescence and first loves. I think just about everyone can relate to Tiger Lily and her struggle to fit in, and everyone can also understand the struggle of loving a boy at that age. It is exhausting, all the questions we have when we do, and Tiger Lily asks the same ones in her own fashion: Does he love me? Do I love him? What does he mean when he says this or that? In the end, no one says what they mean and everyone ends up getting hurt. Isn’t that the way of it though? We’ve all been there.
Simple and endearing, Tiger Lily will bring you back to your own version of teenage angst and reveal a boy and girl who never grow up that are just the same as you or me. Because in true-to-life fashion, Tiger Lily loves, loses, but she eventually will find that someone who loves her for exactly who she is and doesn’t want her to change. Be true to yourself: It is a simple message transmitted through one of Neverland’s strongest female characters who Disney just brushed over, but who Anderson saw fit to illuminate.