39. Peter Darling by Austin Chant Peter returns to Neverland after spending 10 years living as Wendy again for the sake of his family. But Neverland is not the same or too much the same.The romance was beautiful, gentle & exhilarating. Just fabulous. https://t.co/ZLkdeU3cvO— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) April 29, 2018
In Peter Darling, Austin Chant does something magical. He transforms a story we think we know into something wholly new by translating the theatrical convention of Peter Pan being played by a young woman, into Peter actually being trans. As someone who had never much liked the Peter Pan story and Peter in particular, this reinterpretation felt incredibly right, It gave new depth to original and helped me understand Peter like I never had before. The impulsive imp is not merely a sullen boy unwilling to face growing up but one for whom growing up has real dangers, for growing up means abandoning the freedoms of childhood and having to abide by gendered expectations a family is unwilling to understand him. Fleeing to Neverland is finding refuge from the oppressive nature of that daily trauma. Tinkerbell is not simply a wish-granting fairy, but a rescuing angel, who saves Peter from soul-crushing despair by providing a way out when he most needs it.
Chant's Peter is still brash, blood-thirsty, and the brazen attention-seeker he is the original Peter Pan but it isn't as effortless as it used to be. As eager as he is to reclaim his throne as the leader of the Lost Boys as soon as he arrives back in Neverland, Peter can't sink into the pure escapist adventure and adoration as he once been able to. Memories of home increasingly intrude as he tries to distract himself by indulging in aggression against Hook. Although shocked by his return, Hook does recognize in him as his old enemy and worthy rival, shaking Hook out of his own ennui.
"That was it. Everyone else had followed him at best, at worst tried to stop him or change him. Hook had matched him, and had never tried to protect Peter, had always done his worst. That was what felt so good."
pg 141 -- Peter Darling by Austin Chant
Peter Darling is a true enemies to lovers story, as Peter and James move from being the bitterest of enemies to slowly falling in love after being trapped and lost together. I just loved how clearly James saw Peter when Peter didn't quite see himself, let alone recognize the desire that hides under his angry fascination with Hook. I really loved Hook and how Hook slowly became James to Peter. Chant humanizes Hook slowly and believably, peeling back the layers to the romantic, flamboyant, heart-broken man that needed Neverland just as much as Peter did, yet can't stay in it any longer.
I loved how hard it was for Peter to let go of Neverland and how James could not make that choice for him. I held my breath for the last quarter of the novel, waiting to see when Peter would recognize that he could have a future and a life outside of Neverland. I loved that in this book Austin Chant is able to affirm the both the need for escapism and withdrawal and the need to face hard truths and make hard choices. Leaving Neverland is hard, adjusting to life outside of it isn't simple or easy, but there is also joy and beauty to be found there.
I am so glad I have all Austin Chant's books in my TBR already, as I relied in the recommendations of trusted reviewers enough to buy them all, even as I hesitated to start Peter Darling. I have so much goodness waiting for me. I hope you try Peter Darling.