YA Weekend Audio: Darling by K. Ancrum
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Contemporary, Retellings, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tantor Audio (June 22, 2021)
Length: 6 hrs and 45 mins
Author Information: Website
Most Peter Pan retellings I read tend to be fantasy, so it was quite surprising to come across K. Ancrum’s YA contemporary thriller reimagining Neverland as the Chicago underground, Peter as the leader of a group of orphans he looks out for, Tinkerbelle as his punk ex-girlfriend, and Hook as the dogged detective looking to bring him down.
Then there’s Wendy Darling, the 17-year-old protagonist at the center of this novel. She and her family have just moved to the city, and with Wendy getting ready to go to college next year, her parents are also looking to adopt a child to raise in their new home. One night though, an intruder comes through her broken window, expecting the house to be empty. When Wendy catches him, the young man introduces himself as Peter, griping about the torn sleeve of his jean jacket. In a rush to get rid of him, Wendy offers to sew it back up if he would just leave and never return. Instead, Peter entices her with the promise of a fun night on the town with his recalcitrant companion Tinkerbelle who seems to take a dislike to Wendy right away.
Thinking, “Heck, why not?”, Wendy accepts and joins them on an adventure into the city, where she is almost immediately accosted by the lost boys due to a misunderstanding, and they take her to their home in the subway tunnels. Peter reveals to Wendy that they are being pursued by Detective Hook who is always looking for an excuse to put him behind bars, but luckily they pay a bruiser called the Crocodile to keep the police off their tail. As the night goes on though, Wendy’s initial fascination with Peter starts to fade as some of his true intentions and secrets become revealed.
I think the coolest part about contemporary retellings that forgo fantasy elements is that they often seem more creative when it comes to creating real-world analogues to the magical stuff. Surprisingly, the author was able to stay pretty true to Barrie’s classic, reimagining more parts of the story than I expected. She also kept the dark tone of the original, which many retellings tend to gloss over. Ancrum definitely dials up the edginess and grit for her version of Peter Pan though, adding a disturbing touch to the mix as well.
That said, the overall spin on the story feels very fresh and original. In part, this is due to the setting. As a Chicago native, Ancrum brings the night scene and the diversity of the city to vibrant life on the page. You might also recognize a lot of the side characters from the ones they were based on, but each one gets the modernized treatment yet still feels three-dimensional at the same time. I especially liked the relationship between Wendy and Tinkerbelle, as it is later revealed that the latter had her reasons for her animosity and tries to give our protagonist a warning about Peter.
The story was well-paced, but also a bit rough in some places. An effort was made at balancing the realism while trying to incorporate as many aspects of the original fairy tale all at once, and it didn’t always work out. Wendy decided to go along with Peter’s invitation much too quickly, for example, and I know teenagers can do some pretty dumb things, but come on! Along with that, there are many other places where you have to suspend disbelief—which I wouldn’t normally mind, but this is a contemporary retelling, and while Ancrum goes to great lengths to make the story seem more convincing, sometimes the there are cracks in the foundation.
But all told, I really did enjoy this. The audiobook which I listened was also well-narrated and I liked the voice of the reader, Angel Pean, who gave life to the characters, in some cases even filling out their personalities with her wonderful tones and expressiveness. It was a relatively short listen as well, and was exactly what I needed when I was looking for a YA book that was fast-paced and entertaining.