From Goodreads: Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy–yes, that Wendy. She’s running a successful skincare company; her son, Jack, is happy and healthy; and the tragedy of her past is well behind her…until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, has gone missing from the estate where she’s been long tucked away. And, worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but more dangerous than anyone could imagine.
TW: Brief sexual assault, addiction
There’s more to that Goodreads description, but it goes a bit too deep into the story and borders on spoilers, so I’m not including the rest. This is enough to get the idea across. Darling Girl is a modern visitation of Peter Pan – not a retelling, but an exploration of what it might look like if the fairy tale were true. Because fairy tales can look beautiful on paper, and are often a nightmare when you get deep into them. Peter Pan and Neverland are presented as an ideal, eternal youth, but what does eternal youth mean? From this book:
“It’s as if he’s a three-year-old, a giant toddler bashing about.”
Darling Girl explores those darker sides, but this isn’t just a book about fairy tales and nightmares. That just makes up the background for some very complicated questions on ethics. Holly is a scientist with a complicated past. She’s trying to help her children, but her methods wade into very murky areas. At what point do you cross the line from ethical medical practices into harmful ones? Particularly when the situation is more complicated than it would be if there were not ties into a magical realm? Then there are the choices and dilemmas Holly faces as a mother, entirely separate from her medical and scientific pursuits. Parental ethics are a different kind of question. At what point do you go from protecting a child to harming them by your actions (or inactions)? It was a really fascinating exploration.
“Just because you ignore something doesn’t make it disappear.”
This was a really well-written book. My only real quibble was that the climax of the book took place off-stage, making it really anticlimactic. I understand why it took place off-stage, and I’m grateful that at least the two characters who experienced it told their stories so we find out what happened, but still. After feeling like the inevitable showdown was getting closer and more dangerous all the time, it was a letdown to miss it. And that’s the thing that will keep this from being one of my favorite books of the year, because it was really that good up to that point. I do still highly recommend it, with the caveat that the conclusion might not be as satisfactory as you’d wish.