We all know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up. J.M. Barrie wrote and published a play and two books about Peter and his adventures in the early 20th century, recounting how Peter visited the Darling children: Wendy, John, and Michael, and spirited them away to Neverland by teaching them how to fly. But what if there is more to the story than we were told? What if Peter Pan is real? What if the ideas for the story didn’t originate with Barrie, but he merely wrote down what Wendy told him after returning from her adventure? And what if Barrie’s version, sanitized and romanticized for Victorian tastes, removed the darker, more sinister elements of what really happened? What if what really happened could have repercussions through the decades for the Darling family and its descendants?
Holly Darling is a bio-chemist and business owner. She is the founder of Darling Cosmetics, capitalizing on her family’s notoriety (her grandmother, Wendy, was THE Wendy from Barrie’s stories). Her mother, Jane, is a London socialite who has used her mother’s fame as a foundation for her notoriety. She has also lived her entire life waiting and desperately wanting to meet Peter Pan. Holly also has secrets. Like the fact that Peter Pan has visited her, shortly after she lost her husband and one of her sons in a car accident a decade earlier. Her surviving son, Jack, was badly injured in the accident. Her daughter, Eden, was born shortly after the accident and everyone assumed that Holly was pregnant when the accident happened. But Holly knows better. Holly hasn’t seen Peter in over a decade, although she has always feared his return and what it could mean for Eden. Now Eden is missing and Holly knows that can mean only one thing: Peter has returned.
In Darling Girl, Liz Michalski uses Barrie’s stories to create a new novel of Peter Pan, but she shifts the focus to tell a multi-generational tale of the Darling women, beginning with Wendy, and how each of them survive their encounters with “the boy who never grew up.” Michalski also explores the bonds between mothers and children and between siblings, as well as the difficulties of recovering from trauma whether experienced as a child or an adult. Michalski populates the story with reimagined versions of familiar characters and locations recognizable from the earlier stories.
Barrie’s story and protagonist have always seemed to have an untapped dark side. Peter is seemingly immortal. He only visits the nursery at night. It is never truly explained why he is so drawn to the Darling family, especially the girls. Michalski weaves these dark underpinnings into a story of loss, regret, determination, and redemption.