Batchelor’s debut novel retells the story of Peter Pan and Wendy for a contemporary audience.
Batchelor updates the Peter Pan story, eliding some of the more troublesome aspects for modern readers (and their parents). The Lost Boys now include a fair number of girls, including leaders Lily and Trudy. Barrie’s stereotypical Indians have been replaced by a nonethnic “tribe” of kids, also led by a girl, Cholena. Batchelor also tones down the bloodthirstiness of the original pirate tale so that even the crocodiles don’t seem like much of a threat. This version of Never-Never Land has plenty of fun contraptions young readers will love: roller coasters, trampolines made from vines, and hobby horses that transform into real horses. The terrible teacher–turned-pirate Hook/Steed and the capricious fairy Bellatresse provide some laughs: “In a puff of smoke that made him cough, Bellatresse appeared. As usual, she crossed her arms and pouted. ‘I’m busy!’” More importantly, Batchelor deepens the familiar characters so that today’s kids can better relate to them. Wendy, the protagonist, “did not belong with anyone.” Her family life is difficult: her parents are struggling financially and on the brink of separation. Frequently left home alone, she must care for her youngest brother, Michael, who is on the autism spectrum but not getting the parental attention he needs. Family problems leave her and her two brothers with the desire to fly away. While life with Peter is a kid’s idea of paradise, family turns out to be of primary importance after all, and the ending is both realistic and bittersweet. Batchelor infuses her story with humor and some beautiful imagery, as when she describes Michael’s “special place,” where “red and yellow birds whirled like spinning tops with wings.” The writing can sometimes be stilted and wordy, though: “Steed slammed his good hand against a nearby table and flinched, immediately indicating that he regretted the gesture.” While this is a competent reworking, it will be interesting to see how Batchelor, a promising writer, tackles an original story for kids.
Welcome return of Peter Pan for the 21st century.