August 21, 2012

Review: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Published: 2012, HarperTeen
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Retelling
Source: Library book

She felt the warmth of Peter’s arm under her neck, and it almost felt like he was an extension of her, and like if they had souls, they lay somewhere snug between their two bodies. Maybe all of her strangeness, her curse, her always feeling like an outsider, had all existed so that she could belong here, with Peter. 

Apparently I'm going against the grain here, but, while I really wanted to love Tiger Lily, it did not work out for me. I feel as though there was so much potential in this book. I'm always game for a fairy tale retelling, especially those that prominently feature previously sidelined characters. Unfortunately Tiger Lily failed to meet my expectations.

Tiger Lily has been a part of the Sky-eaters tribe ever since its Shaman Tik Tok found her under a flower as an infant. But Tiger Lily has always felt distanced from her tribe, and the tribe is hesitant to accept the girl who seems to have a connection with both the crows and ancestors' spirits. Tiger Lily and the tribe exist in an uneasy alliance until she disobeys and puts the tribe at risk by helping out an Englander with the dreaded aging disease, and so it is announced that she will marry Giant, a man of the tribe, to keep her in line. Though she outwardly appears to accept the tribe's decision, Tiger Lily does not quell her rebellious streak. She continues to help the Englander, sees the pirates, travels to parts of Neverland that others are afraid to see, and eventually befriends Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. But time continues to count down to her marriage and the lack of freedom that will come with it.

Although the protagonist of this story is Tiger Lily herself, Tinker Bell is the narrator. This is a risky move on Anderson's part and I applaud her for that decision. This narrative technique is not used very commonly probably because it is very difficult to make the narrator simply an observer of the protagonist. The only book I can think of that's done this sort of thing well is F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. In the case of Tiger Lily, Tinker Bell tells the story in first person and acts like a third person omniscient narrator, divulging the internal thoughts of those she observes. But I had an extremely difficult time connecting to any of the characters through this narrative device, including Tinker Bell herself.

Sometimes a more subtle book without lots of action or characterization appeals to me, but oftentimes it does not. Besides having next to no feelings for the narrator, I also couldn't make myself like Tiger Lily. She's strong and prickly but oh so distant. Tinker Bell's narration was not enough to bridge the gap between the reader and Tiger Lily for me. I found myself struggling to understand Tiger Lily's motivations, her feelings, any sort of drive. As the story continued and the plot got progressively darker, I could not make any sense of Tiger Lily's actions. I will say, however, that she felt the most alive to me when she is with Tik Tok or thinking about Philip and the English outsiders. And she is a fierce protector of what she loves.

I found myself not quite as impressed by the worldbuilding as I would have hoped. The story is set in Neverland, a world of infinite possibilities. I expected the setting to evoke a sense of wonder and magic, but I didn't really feel that way. Sure, there were mermaids, pirates, tribes, fairies, and the Lost Boys. But both Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily took in everything in such a matter-of-fact way that Neverland just didn't seem very magical.

A lot of my issues stem from the book's promotional blurb. I was expecting this great romance. I did enjoy how Peter Pan and Tiger Lily are both broken and scarred (even if neither is willing to admit it), which allows their relationship to really focus on their personal healing. But I just didn't feel invested enough in either of those characters. There's so much unsaid between them, and, even with Tinker Bell's ability to read internal thoughts, there were too many gaps between the characters thoughts and their actions. This didn't seem so much of a star-crossed romance as a friendship that forms out of need. Which is fine but not what I was expecting.

Anderson does a good job with her reimaginings of some other characters and explaining why certain things are the way they are in the original tale. I liked her new interpretations of Captain Hook (which I felt was spot-on and made a whole lot more sense in terms of his character development and his desire for vengeance against Peter Pan) and Smee (though really Smee becomes so incredibly disturbing in this version). I also liked the portrayal of Wendy Darling. I think that most people equate Wendy as a nurturer and so innocent. It was refreshing to read about a Wendy who clearly has some indication of how her arrival so dramatically changes things for the island of Neverland.

I realize that my only basis of comparison here is the Disney film Peter Pan. As with my familiarity of Disney's treatment of other fairy tales like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Beauty and the Beast, I know that Disney's version should not be my be-all end-all for this tale. But it is. I know that Anderson's Tiger Lily will appeal to many readers out there. Tiger Lily is a fierce female protagonist, there's forbidden love, there's a deep sense of longing and loss throughout the novel, and it forces readers to gain perspective on a familiar story. It just wasn't a great match for me.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I was in the minority as well. I didn't love this one. I was disappointed in the romance and wasn't feeling the characters. I sort of got the beauty in the writing but I felt kind of bored through so much of the book. I think it's just a matter of taste and it wasn't really for me. I'm sad you didn't love it, but feel kind of relieved I'm not the only one.

    1. I hear you there! Glad to know I'm not alone as well. And yes! The lack of action, or just in general how I felt that nothing was "told" or "shown" via Tinker Bell's perspective made the book difficult to get through.

  2. Aww, I'm sorry to hear you didn't love this one as much as everyone else did! I know all about being the black sheep, but this was one book I actually really liked. Still, you bring up some excellent points! Wonderful review!(:

    1. I know, I was disappointed myself. But not everything works for everyone, obviously. Now I'm curious to see what your thoughts on the book were! Thanks for commenting, Keertana!

  3. Great review! Sorry you didn't like this as much as you hoped you would! I'm a little apprehensive about reading this because I don't think I'll like it. I don't know if I eventually will read it or not. I'll have to tell you how The Child Thief is if I ever get to read it. Have you seen Hook or the version with Jeremy Sumpter? I loved them both!

    1. I'd suggest you didn't read it lol. We do have some similar reading tastes, and I'm not sure you'd appreciate it any more than I did. I think I saw Hook, a very long time ago. And Finding Neverland. But those are the only other versions I know of.


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