Wendy, Darling by A. C. Wise
Titan Books, pb,
Reviewed by John C. Adams
If you like your children’s fairy stories as Disney intended them, look away now.
A. C. Wise is one to watch. This up and coming author won the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, and she has twice been a finalist for the Nebula Awards. She has two short-story collections and a novella under her belt, plus short stories in Uncanny and Tor.com. She’s also making her mark as a reviewer for Apex Magazine and Book Smugglers. That’s where I first encountered her work because she runs a review column about nonbinary writers.
It’s twenty-seven years since Wendy, Michael and John returned from their journey to Neverland with Peter Pan. Far from providing happy memories consigned to childhood that sustain a satisfying adult life, all three remain traumatised. Michael survived World War One but is suffering from depression and shock. John is depressed by the economic challenges of family responsibility. Wendy has been diagnosed with mental illness and was locked up in an asylum for several years before obtaining permission to leave only because she agreed to marry. This involved exchanging one subtle form of imprisonment for another because she’d never met Ned before agreeing to marry him.
I did warn you.
The kernel of Wendy’s troubles lies in a yearning for Peter and the joys of Neverland she has always remembered as the best part of her life. Michael and John have denied its existence, and she’s learned the hard way not to share her memories with adult men. When Peter finally returns, unchanged, he mistakes her daughter Jane for Wendy and snatches her away instead. Wendy follows, in the distress of her daughter’s abduction, finally recovering the ability to fly. She makes it to Neverland, where, like any adult encountering the childlike, she realises that all was not as it seemed. The darkness is palpable, but she’s determined to rescue Jane.
I loved this book. The flashbacks to Wendy’s incarceration threw an uncomfortable spotlight on the treatment of mental illness in post-Edwardian England, particularly as it relates to women. Solidarity with her fellow women is the order of the day in this darkly feminist tale, including across boundaries of colour, when Wendy encounters Tiger Lily, a shadow of herself, and befriends Mary, whose tribe is from the First Nations People of Canada, in the asylum. Above all, it’s a portrait of the support a mother can give her daughter in the face of a cruel world with many challenges. I’m nonbinary, but it is still possible for me to find feminism relatable in ways beyond my gender, so I enjoyed the book very much. My daughter is seventeen, so any expression of solidarity here right now is more likely to earn a sneer or an eye roll than anything else, but I liked the concept.
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