Book Review: Darling
Updated: Nov 22, 2021
“...'I'm not going to have you get kidnapped within the first seventy-two hours we've been in this city'....She hated this fucking family.”
―K. Ancrum, Darling
Yo! What's up Write Voicers?
Keeping up with the trend of the last couple of months, I've got another interview lined up for today with the gracious and amazing K. Ancrum, the author of Darling! Per usual, the review will post at 1:30 PM today, and I can't wait to share some inside facts about K. Ancrum and her work.
Right now though, we're going to jump back into the not-so-childlike wonderment that is Darling. Quick warning though: Unlike with my other book review, this one has a few SPOILERS. Don't say I didn't warn you!
First, I want to say that the 1953 rendition of Peter Pan by Disney wasn't my favorite adaptation of the treasured novel of the same name by J.M. Barrie. Also, I've never actually read the novel (sorry Write Voicers, not all English majors read the classics). Instead, I'm much more partial to the Steven Spielberg version Hook.
On that same note, I do enjoy the idea of Neverland, Mermaid Lagoon, and all the other fantastical places set in the world of Peter Pan―regardless of whether it's Barrie's, Disney's, or Spielbergs. So, when I got the chance to review Darling I had to jump on it. Why, you ask? I'll have to tell you that later. For now, let's focus on the book itself.
What's the novel about?
Seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling just moved to Chicago and wants nothing more than to hang out with her online friend Eleanor. They've texted, talked on the phone, and even have video chats.
There's just one problem: Her parents don't want her to go out with a stranger. And, after Wendy keeps pushing the issue, they ground her for the weekend.
But then, something interesting happens. After Wendy's dog attacks him and rips a piece of his jacket off, an attractive guy who goes by the name of Peter Pan pops up at Wendy's window demanding to be compensated for the jacket that Wendy's dog tore. Wendy decides to mend his jacket. As a thank you, he gifts her a necklace made of acorns; and when he offers Wendy a night of fun and excitement, she takes him up on the offer.
Little does Wendy know that this night on the town will take a very dark turn because, as it says on the cover, "not all lost boys should be saved."
What themes are present in the book?
I feel like this book had many themes, but I think the most important one is to be careful who you trust. Wendy has a penchant for wanting to hang out with people that she doesn't know well.
First, there's Eleanor: her online friend. And, yeah, I get it. In the Digital Age you're bound to meet some pretty chill people online. But, Mr. and Mrs. Darling's concerns about their seventeen-year-old child meeting a complete stranger―yes, even one that she's video chatted with―is completely valid.
And, honestly, I would be more worried if her parents hadn't discussed their fears with her.
Second, there's Peter: a guy that she's just met. Wendy knows that it's a bad idea to go out with a stranger. I mean, it's not like this is our Disney hero AND her parents had just grounded her pushing the issue of meeting with Elanor! And, while Eleanor proves how trustworthy she is throughout the novel by helping Wendy with her various issues, Peter has done nothing but lie, coerce, and put Wendy in danger. Wendy even states that she needs to be smart if she's going to go out with Peter, going so far as to contact Eleanor about it before actually leaving. If you didn't trust the guy, why go in the first place?
Last, you have all the side characters from Detective Hook to the Lost Boys who kidnap her off the street to Detective Hook, who works for Chicago police, Wendy has to decide who she trusts and who is a threat.
What did you like?
Obviously, there is a ton to like about Darling, but the one thing that I keep coming back to is the SUSPENSE!
Yo, when I tell you all that this book had me on the edge of my seat from the moment Wendy meets Peter, I really mean it. From her making the decision to go out with a total stranger, to the scene involving tear gas, to the ending, there was no point at which I could figure out what would happen―and, trust, there are plenty of books where I can figure it out. Just. Not. This one.
But the suspense isn't just from not knowing what will happen next. It goes deeper than that. Throughout the book, Ancrum gives us a sense of foreboding without spoiling the story. She toes the line between the obvious and the subtle and, for whatever reason, it works.
Trust that when you pick this book up, you will not want to put it down because every decision that Wendy makes, takes you down another path. (Just look to the left for the live footage of my face while reading!)
All of that aside, Ancrum also does a great job with imagery, place, and setting. When Wendy sees a molotov cocktail flying across a platform, you can feel the heat that's released when it blows up; when Wendy is scared, you are terrified; and when Wendy is in the Mermaid's Lagoon, you can smell, hear, feel, and see Mermaid's Lagoon.
In this story where all your preconceived notions of Peter Pan's character is twisted, you find yourself realizing―like Wendy―that when "the other kids [laugh], fake and loud" it's because "[p]eople don't get good at doing things like that unless they [need] to."
What, if anything, did you dislike or wish the author would've done differently?
Honestly, I only have two critiques.
First, I wish the book was in first-person. I completely understand why it wasn't―there are just some scenes that you can't write in a book if the point of view (POV) is limited―however, because I felt such a strong connection to Wendy, and because I was concerned about her as a character, I really wanted to get in her head. I wanted to know what possessed her to go out with a total stranger. And, yes, you sort of get that in third-person POV, but it's not the same. Just ask the creator of the video below.
Second, like, would it have been cool to have a dual story told with Peter's first-person POV? Most definitely! I wanted to see inside his head too and figure out what made him choose her to go out with for the night―among other things. But, it probably would have detracted from the overall story, so it's probably a good thing that it didn't happen.
That said, I totally wouldn't mind reading another retelling of a classic by Ancrum, this time in a first-person POV.
So why did you have to jump on reviewing this book?
If you all can't tell yet, I LOOOVE retellings of stories. I mean, I've watched almost every iteration of Cinderella that there is and am always willing to watch or read a retelling of childhoods stories. But I had to review this particular book for a few reasons. First, when I read the synopsis, I was completely hooked and, even if I hadn't been able to review it, I knew that I was going to find time to read it. Second, I had to know what a dark re-telling of Peter Pan would look like, especially when written by a black author who resides in an inter-city like Chicago. And, last, one day I hope to write a retelling that's as captivating as the one that the amazing K. Ancrum has created because, what can I say, I like dark stories like those from the Brother's Grimm.
How many stars would you give this book and why?
Darling is a modern-day take on J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. As Ancrum said in the stunning interview with Paola M. Guerrero, it has the adventure that teenagers are looking for mixed with the insight that adults have on the world.
It also discusses the themes of trust and, although not written in a first-person POV, the reader is able to get into the heads of the characters.
For all of this, and more, I think that this book deserves 4.5 out of 5 stars.
K. Ancrum is the author of Darling, The Wicker King, and The Weight of Stars. Her book is available in bookstores and at the library.
For information on what she's up to, and adventures with her characters, you can visit her website.
If you enjoyed this review and want to know more about her, check out this interview.
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