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Book Review: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .

Spoiler Alert: Don’t read the italicized book quotes if you don’t want to.  They are meant to illustrate the beauty of the storytelling and the narration device employed.  Consider yourself duly warned.

Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love story, but not like any you’ve ever heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win.”

Someone asked a few weeks ago at a #yalitchat if there was such a thing as literary young adult fiction.  To which I say: YES! And if you read Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, you will never doubt the truth of that statement again.

Tiger Lily is the story of Peter Pan before he met Wendy.  This is not Peter Pan’s story, but 15-year-old Tiger Lily’s story. Tiger Lily lives outside the Forbidden Woods of Neverland where her people seem to never grow old.  She is in the care of the very nontraditional Tik Tok, and is watched over by the seldom seen Tinkerbell.  In fact, Tinkerbell is the narrator of our story, the proverbial fly on the wall that sees and hears all but seldom plays an active part – although seldom does not mean never.

“Why does this faerie follow you everywhere?” he asked. “Do you think she’s plotting to murder you in your sleep?” he teased. My wings and the tips of my feet tingled with anger. But then he reached a finger toward me gently, and the anger melted. “Let’s name her Tinker Bell,” he said, like I was their child. He swooped his hand underneath me. “Hi, little Tink.” Hearing him say it thrilled me-a name Peter had invented, just for me.” 

Tiger Lily is an unconventional character and she is punished in the story for her nonconformist ways by being forced into marriage to a man that she truly detests.  No, her heart comes to belong to the wild boys in the forest and their triumphant leader, Peter Pan.  But there is another love waiting in the shadows, a true and faithful love that hopes one day Tiger Lily will realize that your greatest loves is sometimes your most faithful childhood friend.

“I’m not myself,” she offered, guiltily. She softened around Tik Tok, and when she did she was, for those rare moments, girlish.

He smiled. “You can never say that. You’re just a piece of yourself right now that you don’t like.” 

Everything about Tiger Lily is a truly amazing feat in storytelling.  The characterizations are heartfelt; here we have characters living in a wild world not yet settled by the English and their hearts beat in wild and reckless ways.  They live without abandon, whether they be Lost Boys dwelling in the forest or pirates seeking to wipe out those missing Lost Boys.  Yes, the fearless Captain Hook and Smee (here a psychopathic serial killer) make a grand entrance and help put elements into motion that can not be stopped.

But what is truly glorious in Tiger Lily is the use of language.  Here we see how a few simple words can be strung together with such impact that they write themselves on your heart and compel you to strive to live your life differently:

“Sometimes I think that maybe we are just stories. Like we may as well just be words on a page, because we’re only what we’ve done and what we are going to do.”

“Maybe it’s easier,” he said, “to believe what someone else says is absolutely right.”

“Sometimes love means not being able to bear seeing the one you love the way they are, when they’re not what you hoped for them.”

“It didn’t fit her ideas of who was bad, and who was good, and what was a happy ending, and what wasn’t.” 

I often think to myself that I want to rate books on their quotability factor; the more quotes I write down in my quote journal (yes, I keep a quote journal), the higher the score.  Tiger Lily would receive a 5+ out of 5.  It is truly a testament to glorious writing style and lyrical prose.

Another element of the story that I loved is the story of Tik Tok himself.  You see, Tik Tok is a man who prefers to wear ponytails and dresses.  Although his people have always seemed to tolerate him and his unconventional ways, the Englanders who crash on the island have truly different thoughts about this and how that all plays out is a powerful and compelling story.  And here we have powerful examples of imagery as a ticking clock comes to be tied in with a beating heart.

The reading of Tiger Lily has a sort of dreamlike quality to it, in part I think because Tinkerbell is our outside narrator.  It is like you are living in her body and observing this story from up above as opposed to hearing Tiger Lily tell her own story.  For some readers, it is possible that this will make it harder for them to engage in the story.  It is the perfect storytelling device for this story, but not for all readers.

As far as story goes, Tiger Lily has everything one could want: pirates, mermaids, adventure, murder and, of course, love.  This is a great book to share with the Peter Pan books and talk about story extenders, re-imaginings, and more.  I don’t think you’ll get the high number of circs that you would get as say something like The Hunger Games (I could always be wrong), but I know that your shelves will be richer for adding this great literally gem into your collection.  Hand this to fantasy fans, fairy tale fans, romance readers, and John Green fans.  Yes, yes I did say John Green fans.  Trust me. 5 out of 5 stars.

Harper Collins Children’s Books, July 2012 ISBN 9780062114617