Sisters of Neversea
by Cynthia Letich Smith
It’s hard to tell whether Cynthia Leitich Smith’s new middle-class novel, “Sisters of the Neversee,” was a deliberate attempt to rewrite J.M. Barrie’s 1911 novel “Peter Pan” (originally titled “Peter and Wendy”) is; its response; Or a creative reimagining. Maybe it’s all three, which may be part of the reason it can feel a little complicated.
The author of the award-winning 2018 young adult novel “Hearts Unbroken” chooses to first focus her readers’ attention on Wendy Darling and her half-sister Lily. Wendy’s mother has died and her father is remarried to a native woman—who, like Smith, is Muskogee Creek, and who arrives with her son and daughter, John and Lily. Darlings have been carried over time from Victorian England to modern-day Tulsa, Okla. Soon Wendy will travel to Neverland with her younger half-brother, Michael, and eventually Lily. (John graduated from high school and doesn’t play much of a role here.)
It’s important to note that Barry’s portrayal of Native Americans in “Peter Pan” is, shall we say, extremely problematic. Peter calls them “Picaninese”. Barry’s narrator describes him as “wild”. Women are also subject to the contempt of the narrator; They serve the male characters on whims. Tiger Lily, a proud “redskin” girl, is a pawn that males – among them Peter Pan and Captain Hook – seldom. “Coquetish, cold and alternately sensual,” the young original princess is also in love with Barry’s immature, undisturbed Peter Pan.
Smith has a way with the details. She has a keen eye for the natural world and a keen affinity. His verbal rendition of space and texture – sound, color and mood – is beautifully evocative. And she writes of Neverland Island as a complex character in her own right. Sadly, he hasn’t always been able to do the same with his human charges, to make them completely believable and distinctive. This includes Peter Pan, who is portrayed mostly as the “Lord of the Flies” – like the demon – he kills lion cubs and terrorizes people and animals alike – until his heart suddenly changes. does not go away, and all the destruction left behind is forgiven.