Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book Review: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

I should start this review with two confessions:

  • I never read the original Peter Pan by J.M Barrie. But I have seen the stage play and of course I've seen Disney's version.
  • I have an aversion to spin-off books/fan fiction.
You probably know where this is going. 
I think fan fiction authors tread dangerous waters when they twist another author's story and characters to their own devices, especially such an iconic story as Peter Pan. They open themselves up to much more criticism than normal. But they've walked the gangplank, so to speak, and thus have to swim with the crocodiles.

Let's take a look at some of the basics of Tiger Lily
  • Neverland, in this incarnation, is an island that is magically hidden, and only a few find their way there over the ocean. But that seems to be the only magical thing about it. Everything about it, including the fairies, are discussed in Darwinian terms: the island and its inhabitants just evolved to be the way they are. That not bad, just a complete departure from the original story. (There's no flying to Neverland in this book.) 
  • Tinkerbell plays the mute, bug-eating, Tiger-Lily-fan-girl, non fairy-dust-toting narrator. She spends most of her time in Tiger Lily's village and has watched Tiger Lily grow up. Peter only meets her when he meets Tiger Lily, whom he's apparently meeting for the first time as a teenager. But despite Tinkerbell's muteness, she can apparently see into other people's minds.
  • Tinkerbell talks about the random cessation of growth associated with Neverland. For some reason the pirates are aging, maybe because they sailed there from England as adults? But the natives on the island stop aging at some random point in time. It doesn't appear to be consistent, and the idea is left hanging as an inexplicable element of the island.
  • The main characters, Peter and Tiger Lily are much older than the original, being about 15 or 16 years old, with all the sexual tension that entails. Which feels weird to read, when some of the same things are happening to them as happened in the original story. Peter comes across as  angst-ridden, emotional yo-yo: an innocent bad boy, which sometimes doesn't come across well, given his age in this story. Tiger Lily is the adopted daughter of the trans-gendered shaman of the tribe, taciturn, serious, doesn't show her feelings, and finds it hard to empathize with people, yet truly loves her adopted father. We never really learn what makes her tick. She remains somewhat a mystery throughout the book. Wendy is portrayed as the vapid, boyfriend-stealing wench. Smee is a sociopathic killer, obsessed with Tiger Lily. The whole tone of the book is darker, and the characters are flawed and mostly compelling, which I don't see as a problem, per say, but they just don't reconcile with the original characters. 
  • There is an additional element of magic that is never explained in the book, that exacts revenge on Tiger Lily's enemies. We never learn if it is Tiger Lily herself that causes their destruction, or someone else, or some island magic at work.
  • I would actually have really liked how Tiger Lily's story ended (it makes sense to me, as a married, middle-aged woman with reality, and real love, firmly under my belt) if it weren't for the fact that Pine Sap, the man she marries, her childhood best friend, is deserving of a woman who is emotionally present for him, especially after his abusive childhood. It seems sad to me that in marrying Tiger Lily, he marries a woman as equally emotionally distant as his own mother, although less abusive. It still smacks a little too much of an abuse cycle, although the author keeps insisting that he is very emotionally healthy. If Tiger Lily had shown signs of being different for her experiences, I'd feel better, but as far as the reader can make out, she's still the same old emotionally distant Tiger Lily, pining for Peter Pan.  I don't like Peter's ending.

On the positive side, Jodi Lynn Anderson is a good word weaver, if only the words weren't about iconic characters from an iconic story, most of whom have already been fully formed in peoples minds. If you haven't read Barrie's original, or seen the play, nor feel any loyalty to the original, you will probably like the book. My issues with the book stem entirely from the fact that it's fan fiction. My feeling is, don't mess with a classic. It's not yours to mess with. But I may be in the minority on that issue.

Published in 2012 by HarperCollins Children's Books
Review copy borrowed from the library.

What say you? Are you a fan of fan fiction or do you not want your classics messed with?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Favorites: A New Coat For Anna

A New Coat For Anna
Written by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Anita Lobel

Based on a true story that takes place just after World War II, in an unnamed European town, A New Coat For Anna is the story of how young Anna's determined, enterprising mother, who doesn't have the money to buy Anna the coat she needs, uses the few fine posessions she has left to barter for the goods and services she needs to make Anna's new coat. She trades with the farmer for his sheeps' wool; she trades with the spinner to spin it to yarn; she trades with the weaver to weave the cloth; she trades with the tailor to sew the coat. The whole process takes a year, and Anna and her mother have to participate in the coat's creation too (carding the wool and dying the yarn using lingonberries.) After the coat is finished, just in time for Christmas of the next year, Anna and her mother invite all the people who helped make Anna's new coat possible to a Christmas celebration.

The wonderful, plentiful illustrations by Anita Lobel are perfect for the story, providing enough detail of each stage of the coat's genesis for modern children to understand and feel the work that went into it.

I deeply appreciate that this book gives children an insight into true hardship and inventiveness under trying conditions, without resorting to preachiness. My daughters and I love this story. It's a favorite reread at any time of the year, but especially at Christmas.

Published in 1986 by Random House Children's Books

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Favorites: The Story of Holly & Ivy

The Story of Holly & Ivy
Written by Rumer Godden
Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Loneliness and wishing are the themes of this magical classic Christmas story, first published in 1957. Ivy is a lonely orphan wishing for a place to belong. Holly is a doll in Mr. Blossom's toy shop, dressed in Christmas red and green, wishing to find her little girl, fearful of being put into storage with the mean owl Abracadabra because she hasn't been sold this Christmas. Childless Mrs. Jones aches for something she almost doesn't allow herself to wish for. How these three wishes converge and are fulfilled during this wishing time of year make for a riveting story that never feels dated because it touches on themes that are universal to the human condition. This touching story is made more poignant by Barbara Cooney's dreamy, luminous illustrations, of which there are not enough, in my opinion.

I loved this story when I was a girl, and I'm so pleased my girls love it too. This is the first year Susanna sat through the whole reading of this long picture book.