Darling Girl by Liz Michalski

Other than the odd movie here and there, and perhaps reading the abridged version of the original, my experience with Peter Pan is largely based on retellings. However, I had yet to read a dark retelling, and this novel perfectly fit the bill. Two things to remember when going into this novel: growing up is not the same as growing older, and whatever expectations you have of Peter Pan or any of the characters, excise them from your mind. This is not your grandmother’s fairy tale.

In this beautiful, grounded, and darkly magical modern-day reimagining ofJ. M. Barrie’s classic, to save her daughter’s life one woman must take on the infamous Peter Pan–who is not the innocent adventurer the fairy tales make him out to be . . .

Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy–yes, that Wendy. She’s running a successful skincare company; her son, Jack, is happy and healthy; and the tragedy of her past is well behind her . . . until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, has gone missing from the estate where she’s been long tucked away. And, worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but more dangerous than anyone could imagine.

Eden’s disappearance is a disaster for more reasons than one. She has a rare condition that causes her to age rapidly–ironic, considering her father is the boy who will never grow up–which also makes her blood incredibly valuable. It’s a secret that Holly is desperate to protect, especially from Eden’s half-brother, Jack, who knows nothing about his sister or the crucial role she plays in his life. Holly has no one to turn to–her mother is the only other person in the world who knows that Peter is more than a story, but she refuses to accept that he is not the hero she’s always imagined. Desperate, Holly enlists the help of Christopher Cooke, a notorious ex-soldier, in the hopes of rescuing Eden before it’s too late . . . or she may lose both her children.

Darling Girl brings all the magic of the classic Peter Pan story to the present, while also exploring the dark underpinnings of fairy tales, grief, aging, sacrifice, motherhood, and just how far we will go to protect those we love.

Summary from Goodreads

My Review

Darling Girl follows Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy Darling, as she navigates her way through the family legacy – stemming from the famous Peter Pan story – and her own legacy of her experiences with the real Peter Pan.

At first, Holly’s decisions about her son and daughter seem completely unethical, and in a way, they are, but as the story moves along the reader slowly begins to understand the reasons behind these decisions – reasons that have to do with Peter Pan himself.

Peter Pan as a character has a fey-like dread and terror attached to him, and even when he is not on the scene, his presence is felt.

This story deals with trauma and loss, as well as other triggering material. In one specific scene, there is a sexual assault (page 151), although it is only one or two paragraphs and easy to skip. You can follow the conversation afterward and still know what happened.

Even with all the dark subject matter I still enjoyed this book. A lot of the subject matter is not something I would usually tolerate, but the way it’s presented in Darling Girl is not overly graphic, overwhelming, or melodramatic. The author’s writing style is readable and smooth, and I found myself flying through the pages.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is the way the author brought in the other characters of Peter Pan, and even Peter Pan himself, in ways that I was not expecting. In fact, you may be surprised, after starting the book, which characters actually show up, and how. Darling Girl not only plays with the concept of Peter Pan as a villain, but also with what Neverland really is and what that means for people like Holly Darling, her son Jack, and her daughter Eden.

In the end, Darling Girl is a compulsively readable dark fairy tale that draws you in from the first page. Holly is a smart, empathetic character who overcomes obstacles at great odds. Peter Pan is the feral and frightening other that our nightmares always told us he was. If you’re looking for a page-turning dark fairytale, this is a great book to start.

2 thoughts on “Darling Girl by Liz Michalski

  1. This is so cool!! Reminds me that many of the original, non-Disney-washed fairy tales were very dark too. I won’t even begin to talk about trying to get the slipper onto Cinderella’s feet in the Brothers Grimm version. It’s great to see an author execute a dark version of this so well, based on your review. Thanks for writing about it!

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    1. It was very well done. I definitely want to explore more “adult” fairy tales, excepting the likes of Anne Rice’s version of Sleeping Beauty 😬 and maybe not something that would go full Grimm Fairy Tales, because yeah, that was dark.

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