Review: Darling Girl – AFTER THE LAST PAGE
- 337 Pages
- Peter Pan inspired retelling
- Magical realism
In this dark retelling of Peter Pan, Liz Michalski crafts the story of Holly Darling, granddaughter of the famous Wendy Darling. Holly is a scientist and runs a successful skin care company in the US. Hailing from the UK, Holly has left much of her past behind other than her accent and her son, Jack, of course. Jack has health issues that Holly has hidden from everyone, including her own son, and the secret remedy keeping him alive? Blood donations from her daughter, Eden.
No one knows about Eden. After all, she’s been in a coma for a decade and why cause more gossip for the tabloids? Holly is certain that no one knows Eden’s alive. In fact, she’s taken great care to hide her at the family estate under the 24-hour care of specialty nurses. But, when Eden mysteriously disappears from her bed, Holly’s life begins to fall apart and the past she’s taken so much care to avoid begins to unfold right in front of her and Jack—who knows nothing about his family’s tragic history.
Desperate to find Eden, keep her son alive, and continue to hold the secret of her family, Holly sets on a journey to finding the only man who could have caused this mess—the infamous Peter Pan. The only problem? Peter is nothing like the stories portray him. He’s dark and dangerous.
Darling Girl brings all the magic of the classic Peter Pan story to the present, while also exploring the dark underpinnings of fairy tales, grief, aging, sacrifice, motherhood, and just how far we will go to protect those we love.
When I saw Liz Michalski’s Darling Girl up for grabs on Book of the Month, I was super excited. I had an upcoming trip to Disney World and what better way to kick it off than a Peter Pan retelling?
Though, I’ll admit I was disappointed by this book. I’ve never read anything by Liz Michalski, so I went into Darling Girl blindly with nothing but the BOTM synopsis they list on the app. From my research (after reading, of course), I’ve discovered that Darling Girl is Michalski’s second novel and although it’s not her first fantasy, it is her first retelling.
One of the biggest issues I had with this novel is that it read too much like fan fiction. Personally, I felt like this novel had a lot of plot holes and unanswered questions. One of the biggest things that bothered me was the lack of character development. While we’ve seen some great character development in recent reviews on After The Last Page, Darling Girl fell a little flat for me. While we meet many characters in the story, I didn’t feel particularly connected with any of them. I’m not entirely sure why I felt this way, but it’s almost as if the plotline moved too quickly to be able to connect with anyone. I feel this was especially problematic with Holly’s character, as connecting with the protagonist is typically what motivates a reader to continue reading (i.e. to finish the book).
Getting into this book was tough for me. I struggled to figure out the “accident” that is described multiple times throughout the plot. While this accident is central to the plot and the storyline, the reader never really gets a good sense of what happened to offset Holly’s grief. We learn a little bit, but it’s not enough for the reader to empathize with her. Additionally, it’s hard to decipher which children are which as there are details such as age (and the “twins”) that are difficult to keep up with as the plotline moves forward.
Another thing I struggled with? Holly’s relationship with Christopher Cooke, the character that is supposed to resemble Captain Hook. I actually liked Cooke’s character. I felt like he was perhaps one of the best described protagonists in the novel. However, there’s a certain disconnect between his relationship with Holly. We don’t quite get close enough to understand their relationship, but we see the chemistry. I didn’t quite understand this, though I appreciated Cooke’s role in the book, given Peter Pan’s role as the antagonist.
I won’t spoil Peter Pan’s exact conflicts for those of you who’d like to read Darling Girl, but I enjoyed reading him as a dark character. I’ve often thought of him this way, though Liz Michalski takes it to another level.
The only character that truly made sense for me in this book was Jane, Holly’s mother. She’s distant in much of the first half of the book, but she is the reviving note that kept me going as we follow Michalski’s twists and turns through the plotline. Jane is selfless in a way that Holly doesn’t quite understand until it’s too late, and I admired Jane’s ability to separate herself from her emotions. For me, she was the shining star in this novel.
There’s a lot of things I could say about Darling Girl, but with how fast the plot moves in this book, I wouldn’t want to spoil any important moments for those who’d like to read it.
I think this book would be fantastic for a quick read or for those that enjoy fan fiction, but it missed the mark for me, especially as a retelling. This novel was too dark to be a “fun” read that readers could take on vacation, etc, but it also didn’t have enough development for me to be a favorite. I often found myself wondering what was happening and why the characters behaved as they did.
Overall, I think fans of Peter Pan will enjoy Darling Girl and Michalski’s unique perspective.
If you’d like to read this book, you can pick up Darling Girl on Amazon here.
Not sure what to read next? Check out my last review, Remarkably Bright Things or give my After The Last Page podcast a listen by clicking on our homepage or going to itunes on your mobile device.