It’s the time of year when I want to bake a lot of these doughnuts, brew a pot of this tea, cozy up in this sweater, and read a book just like Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Tiger Lily. I am talking about a book that has a richly imagined world, atmosphere to spare, and characters who surprise and intrigue you from page one to the last. When the wind is getting chillier and the dark comes earlier each day, I want a book that pulls me in and makes me forget for a little while that it will be many months before I dive into a lake again.
I confess, I have never read J.M. Barrie’s most famous book. (For shame! It’s something embarrassing like this that makes me feel guilty about the fluff I indulge in sometimes). The only Peter Pan I can claim knowledge of is the fellow brought to life by Walt Disney. Still, that is enough for me to tell you that Anderson’s book is a re-imagining of the original tale, focusing on the life of Tiger Lily, and her love for Peter in the time before Wendy. Tink narrates, and through her point of view, we learn quickly that she too is under Peter’s spell. In the beginning Tiger Lily knows her place in her village, as the adopted daughter of Tik Tok, the shaman. She is proud, brave, and closed-in. She hides her feelings, except with Pine Sap, her closest friend, who understands her better than anyone else. With her betrothal to Giant, the greatest oaf in her village, she struggles to imagine how she will ever be his wife. It is soon after that she meets Peter and his boys and slowly, she loses herself to their wild, homemade life in the forest. Another narrative thread follows the Englishman, Phillip, who is shipwrecked in Neverland and whose religious preachings change Tiger Lily’s community forever. Then there are the mermaids, sharp-toothed, devious creatures with their own agendas, and the pirates, crazy in their desperate search for the Lost Boys. (Smee is one of the more terrifying characters I’ve come across in my YA reading). Wendy arrives, and this tangle of secrets, passion and brewing violence, finally implodes.
Jodi Lynn Anderson manages to create a story that has real emotional force. The ending is perfect – heart-wrenching and true. But at the same time, this is also a wonderful adventure, and a stunning character study of Tiger Lily, the girl we never knew in Barrie’s original tale. Anderson succeeds in evoking the buggy swamps and the terrible heat and the white sand beaches of Neverland, making it seem a much wilder, less romantic and more dangerous place than you ever imagined.
This is a book for everyone. I am always happy to find a YA title that is truly just right for my Grade 7 and 8s. Yes, this is a love story, but it’s a subtler one, a more naive one, than you’ll find in so many teen books these days. An older teen will love it, but you shouldn’t hesitate in giving it to a younger teen too.
Tiger Lily will steal your breath away, and it will make you want to read (or reread) the classic story shimmering behind it.
Jodi Lynn Anderson create a soundtrack, which you can check out here.
Tiger Lily is published by Harper Teen.