Retelling Book Review: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger LilyTiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to read this book for a long time — so long that, after I started it and a friend told me it wasn’t worth my time, I insisted that I soldier on, anyway. I don’t regret finishing it, but it wasn’t necessarily worth the wait.

What sticks with me the most is the book’s vivid portrayal of Tiger Lily — I can still call to mind her combination of awkwardness and fierceness; she was flawed and she felt real to me. I also appreciate the author’s decision to make Tiger Lily a member of an imaginary tribe, to further distance her from all the racism and complication of the portrayal of Native Americans in the source material and the adaptations that follow. Finally, her story seems so ripe for exploration — there is a hint that she and Peter have some sort of history in the original story, and I’m glad someone finally picked it up and explored it.

I didn’t mind the ways this story deviated from the original — that is the prerogative of any author writing a retelling. It brought both familiarity and newness to the story of Peter Pan, and it struck a fairly good balance between the two, although I thought it took way too long to get moving; you have to read about 1/3 of the book before Peter shows up, and you only glimpse Wendy in the final chapters.

Ah, the final chapters, where the book goes a bit off the rails and the character of Tiger Lily, so carefully developed up to this point, is allowed to unravel without much thought at all, so much so that it almost ruined the book. This book is unsuccessful in a lot of other ways, too, not the least of which is the writing story. It feels rushed and clunky with an occasional gem of description or insight that is a bit disorienting against the general sloppiness. The choice to tell the story from Tinkerbelle’s perspective felt like a cheap trick, too. The author seemed to treat her character as an afterthought, and the “fairy society” she sometimes referenced did not feel believable or real to me at all. Once in a while she would have to intrude with some reminder that she was a fairy, since her ability to “mind read” to a certain extent just made her feel like an omniscient narrator. And if that’s what it’s going to feel like, why not just have an omniscient narrator?

Unfortunately, this is one of those books that coasts forward more on potential than substance.

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