All Darling Children asks the question: what if something corrupted the ‘boy-who-never-grew-up’? Peter Pan is one of my favorite fairy tales and it has featured in quite a few beautiful re-tellings. (Tiger Lily is one.) But, All Darling Children is a masterful, twisted take on a literary classic. I loved this for its horror filled examination of the spiritual cost of eternal youth and the strong female lead.
From her first moments in Neverland, Madge, the grandaughter of Wendy, can tell that something isn’t right: “Neverland. It seemed a hodgepodge of landscape ripped from a dream. Or maybe a nightmare. On one side, lush forest grew dense with heat and energy. Flowers bloomed in a rainbow of colors. They shuddered as Madge gazed at them, and then, as Pan looked in their direction, shriveled to pale, dry nothings.” loc 525, ebook. This is not Disney’s version of Neverland.
Peter and his Lost Boys are dangerous in this world. Immature and wild, they try to force the traditional gender role of ‘mother’ on Madge (because they don’t know how to handle girls otherwise) and she resists: “Outsiders aren’t supposed to know how to find the tree house until they’ve been initiated.” “Initiated?” Madge’s stomach fell. “What’s that mean?” “It means you’re in the club, not that you’d ever get in, being a girl and all.” loc 692. I never questioned the ‘Father’/’Mother’ roles of Peter and Wendy from the original book but, if the authority of the position was abused… it gets so creepy very quickly.
Madge’s story is told in-between entries from Wendy’s old diary. Here’s one of the passages: “I’ve learned much about (Peter), and while he is erratic and inconsistent in most ways, in one he is steadfast. Predictable. Peter must always be forced to try harder. If one gives in, he loses interest. I will never give in.”loc 921. The back and forth from the story that the reader thinks she knows that is presented in Wendy’s diary, to the new story that Monroe is weaving with Madge, is awesome. There are enough similar elements drawn in from the original that the whole thing feels chillingly familiar- a mirror version of the classic.
Peter’s bragging about his exploits is presented as charming in Barrie’s version- Monroe takes a far more modern view: “Who wants to hear the story of how I cut off Captain Hook’s hand?” The boys whooped and smacked the table. Madge paled. He’d cut off someone’s hand? What was worse, he was bragging about it? Psycho.” loc 973
If you like twisted fairy tale re-tellings, you may love All Darling Children. I did. Another one that you’ve got to pick up if you liked this is Alice by Christina Henry. It’s an incredibly dark re-imagining of Alice in Wonderlandand it’s also amazing.
Thank you to NetGalley and Red Adept Publishing for a free, digital ARC and to my Goodreads friend, Rosemarie Short for writing a fantastic review that convinced me that I just had to read All Darling Children. You can see her review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…
And, thank you for reading!