Title: Tiger Lily | Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson | Publisher: HarperCollins/HarperTeen
The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) offers the following synopsis for Tiger Lily:
Before Wendy came into Peter Pan's life, there was only Tiger Lily.
Plot Summary: Tiger Lily is a fifteen year old, Native American girl who lives within the realm of Neverland where one only ages until the most important thing that will ever happen to him or her occurs. She is a foundling to the Sky Eater tribe – so named for their impressive abilities to move through nature with the grace of birds. Tiger Lily is the adoptive daughter of Tic Tok who is the Shaman of his tribe and is considered an outsider by the elders. She is poorly treated by her peers excepting Pine Sap and Moon Eye, but Tiger Lily doesn't particularly like either of them and has no real friends.
All Sky Eaters are warned to stay away from Peter Pan and the Lost Boys but from the moment Tiger Lily meets Peter she falls in love. Peter returns these earnest feelings and discusses making Tiger Lily his wife. They eventually begin sleeping together in the evenings as if they were man and wife although there is no direct correlation to sexual activity outside that of passionate kissing.
Tiger Lily is betrothed to an oaf of a man named Giant who despises her and covets Moon Eye. There are some thinly veiled references to frequent rapes of Moon Eye by Giant.
As Tiger Lily draws further away from a marriage that she does not want, she becomes more powerfully involved in her love affair with Peter Pan. Because of her increasing separation from her adoptive tribe, she fails to notice huge shifts in tribal dynamics brought about by a power struggle between a Christian missionary of English descent and her cross-dressing Shaman father.
Review : This young adult book has earned a Mature Content rating for drug usage, aberrant behaviors, intense romantic imagery and references to rape and suicide. It also receives two and a half stars for story development.
The greatest of flaws within the tale of Tiger Lily is that the story actually wouldn't exist but for the tremendous literary talents of J.M. Barrie who is the architect of the Peter Pan mythos. Tiger Lily piggybacks onto the Peter and Wendy stories of the early 1900s in a pseudo-prequel. This form of literature is hardly new. Successful or not, imitations often provide a hat tip to the greatness of various enduring fictions. Sometimes the relationship between story and spinoff is synergetic and reflects a wistful desire to keep in touch with our culture's most beloved characters.
Tiger Lily is not symbiotic. Tiger Lily implements a particular seek and destroy mission that infests the pop-culture "fractured fairytales" trend… I can't speak to whether Anderson's deconstruction of this classic fairytale was planned or just an unhappy coincidence though. Either way, the story lives parasitically off the Peter and Wendy legend in a very viral sense because its precise attachment to its host causes real damage to the original bodies of work as a whole.
This is not to suggest that Anderson's writing style holds no intrinsic artistic value. This is a woman who clearly values ambience. Tiger Lily is wrought with heavy, moody imagery that will easily draw a suggestible reader into her vision of Neverland. But this is my pet peeve with writers who feed off other writers' characters in the first place. Anderson's Neverland is a derailment of J.M. Barrie's original concept even though it is not her story to spoil. She is benefitting from the dynamism of someone else's hard work and taking inappropriate advantage.
Categorical "anti" overtones are skillfully woven throughout the story. The main character's affinity for moral relativism acts as the reader's entrée into a very real absolutism of countercultural irreverence. Throughout the novel, Anderson displays a gift for fomenting palpable ill will toward the aged, Christians, men and European culture. Consider the central messages:
Most fault for what is deemed evil in Neverland is laid squarely at the feet of the "Englanders." The pirates are Englishmen who came seeking the everlasting youth that exists in Neverland but have experienced disappointment that their "aging disease" failed to subside. Captain Hook hates Peter Pan because of Peter's eternal youth which he covets for himself. Hook brings a sociopathic serial killer named Smee to Neverland to help hunt down Peter Pan. Smee falls obsessively in love with Tiger Lily and feels that he must, therefore, kill her which he nearly does due to Tiger Lily's own treacherous deeds.
As for Peter, he spares the reader any pretense of civility when observes that when you get old, you "just get smaller inside." It's a youth-culture consensus that is nurtured and unchallenged throughout Anderson's story by multiple characters.
Side note – This is an odd twist to J.M. Barrie's original theme. He emphasized that failing to mature is unrealistic and that an unwillingness to grow older – excepting Peter's case alone – was a monumental tragedy. The Peter character was given a pass as a tribute to his own brother David who died in a skating accident. It brought a modicum of comfort to Barrie's mother that David Barrie's death would keep him an innocent child forever. Peter Pan is an acknowledgment of that tender mourning. In addition to Anderson's misuse of perpetual youth, there is something absolutely disturbing in sexualizing the Peter Pan character in contrast to Barrie's homage of his grieving mother's love.
Philip is a European missionary who becomes shipwrecked in Neverland. After surviving nearly fatal injuries, Philip takes up residence just outside the tribal village and regales the natives with tales of his one true God. He then entrenches himself in tribal culture and undermines the authority of Tiger Lily's adoptive father, Tic Tok. Tic Tok is removed as Shaman until he acquiesces to the mounting pressure over his gender bending ways.
Tic Tok is described in the story as a character that was born to be two genders. He wears dresses… no, I'm not mistaking ceremonial robes for dresses…and makeup within his role as the story's conscience and assures Tiger Lily and the reader that all people were born to be both boy and girl. He stresses that there is no good or evil. He mocks the masculinity and what he sees is the misogyny of God. Tiger Lily wonders at the insecurity of God who requires all things to begin and end with Him.
With regard to Tic Tok's gender confusion, the student's prerequisite sympathy for the heroine of the story is used by Anderson effectively. Readers are invited to vicariously suspend discomfort in the transgendered character of Tic Tok. If Tiger Lily can look past her expressed disquiet over this unusual situation then it must be reasonable and in keeping with the natural order of things. When the tribe submits to the religious tenants of Philip's Christian faith and asks Tic Tok to conform to traditional gender roles (roles that are understood even within the Sky Eater tribe) Tic Tok yields to the request, becomes overwhelmed by the loss of his gender duality and eventually commits suicide by drowning himself.
Two and a half stars are lost for Tiger Lily for many reasons – the greatest of which is that the story teller falls short in her tenacity. Not even she seems to fully believe what she is asking the readers to consider.
One prominent theme within the story Tiger Lily is that there is an intrinsic goodness in moral relativism because when morality isn't fixed; there can be no unfair judgment placed upon alternative lifestyles, but try as she might, Anderson couldn't have it both ways.
Prior to the Christian missionary acting as the impetus for Tic Toc's demise, the Sky Eaters are acutely aware of Tic Toc's aberrance. Tiger Lily is also aware of it and occasionally uses Tic Tok's proclivities to justify her own questionable behavior. Who is Tic Tok to judge her when he can't even get his own act together? This kind of exchange is, perhaps, deeply satisfying to a thirteen or fourteen year old girl, but the subjectivism of gender duality lacks conviction if the story's characters can actually discern that there's something off about a man wearing a dress in the first place.
Another theme we encounter is that it is wrong and pitiable for people to grow old. There aren't too many people in Neverland who have the "aging disease." Those who do are usually of European descent. Anderson fails to draw out any dynamic rational for the "aging disease" affecting only Europeans. This leaves readers to work out the details for themselves. Readers know that Neverlanders stop aging when the most important thing that will ever happen to them happens. One assumes that important things happen to Europeans as well. It's the author's job to draw a conclusion of how this has come to be but she drops the thread and never completes her thought. This makes her "aging" thesis less than compelling.
A third theme we encounter is that the parameters of Western culture and Christianity are unnatural and lead to misery.
Wendy comes to Neverland and introduces order and convention. Wendy's rules are milquetoast. Wendy can't imagine anything that doesn't fit into her ideas of bad or good. Wendy uses false praise to woo Peter away for Tiger Lily. By all Anderson accounts, Wendy is a petty, pedantic busybody with no real mind of her own and readers are openly invited to dislike everything about Wendy.
In contrast, Tiger Lily ignores people who are loyal to her, is oblivious that Moon Eye is being raped by Tiger Lily's own fiancé, ignores Tic Tok's request to help him maneuver through the changing dynamics of the tribe. She is so filled with jealousy over Peter's attentions toward Wendy that she drugs the Lost Boys, betrays Peter and schemes with a sociopath to have Peter and Wendy killed. Yet by all Anderson accounts, Tiger Lily is a preferable archetype for womanhood and the reader is encouraged to embrace her ferocity.
Interestingly, Tiger Lily cannot understand and the readers are never challenged to understand how Peter could leave with simpleton Wendy for England, submit to the aging disease and never return. This seems ironic because I'll bet even many fourteen year old girls will be able to figure out why growing old with Wendy is infinitely better than living forever in Neverland making sure that Tiger Lily's unchecked compulsions are kept at bay.
This book has earned a place on the American Library Association's 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults list.