I gave Darling Girl by Liz Michalski a solid 4.4/5 star rating. This was a unique Peter Pan retelling with Holly Darling as the main character and Peter as the ultimate villain. I’m glad I chose this Book of the Month selection since it was a swirl of dark contemporary mixed with whimsical fantasy. The title of the book was representative of the story, but I wanted a bit more with the color/artwork to portray the genre/vibe.
The present tense writing was a bit jarring at first, but I got into it over time. The first half was also a bit slower than the second half, but that may be due to me having Covid. So, give my typos grace since my head is in a fog still.
Here are my thoughts while reading:
Right away, I’m immediately entranced and swept into Holly’s life, her past trauma from losing family members, and the mystery of her daughter Eden. It’s a great idea to use pixie dust as a cosmetic line and I’m excited to learn how much is fake versus real in this character’s world. Her grandmother was Wendy, so some time has passed over a few generations. How is Peter Pan involved? The third person present tense is a bit jarring but I’m hoping it’ll feel more natural as I progress. In chapter three, the author does a great job of introducing a flashback without it feeling heavy and slow, which is hard to do. Now I’m wondering what the blood is for? Will they Pixie Dust have real magical components? Does Eden give her brother safety/health somehow?
After chapter 4 I’m a little confused about how many children she actually had (3 or 4?) and at what ages did their “incidences” occur? And why is one’s aging accelerating while another is slowed when given a blood injection.
The cliffhanger on Page 82 definitely made things more interesting. Is adult-Peter Pan a villain in this story? I’m very excited.
After chapter 10 I’m appreciative that the writing and vibe grows more and more sinister as the story progresses. Things have already been vague. But now the darkness is creeping in more altering the whimsical fairytale to a possible nightmare. I love love love it.
Okay after chapter 11 I’m confused. As of now it sounds like Holly’s grandfather is also her father and may also be her past lover. Is this true and if so am I supposed to get hung up on it? Or am I drastically miscalculating a detail?
After chapter 13 I’m wondering how stupidly naive Holly is if she thinks her dream of recreating a brother/sister dynamic someday after so many years of lies.
Halfway through I’m enjoying the scientific theme that makes the story feel more modern. The vibe is still strange between dark and almost comical at times. I
wish Jack had a bit more page time. We’re not getting many insights on how he’s feeling about all of this so far. I feel his relationship and status has been in limbo for too long so I’m assuming things will crash for him in the second half. I can’t tell if Christopher is a villain or potential love interest. I’m also unsure if Jane is going to be a problem and betray her daughter. I still have so many questions so hopefully they’re all answered. Is Neverland a real place? How old is Peter? Who is Holly’s grandfather? Will she find Eden? How will Eden respond? Will Barry turn on Holly? Will Holly have to choose between which child to save? How will Jack respond when he learns the truth about having a sister?
When I was ¾ of the way through, I realized I wasn’t sure how old Holly was. Her mothering tendencies are relatable, but is she 36ish? 46ish? I’m not sure. Her character development seemed to be about learning how to live through the grief and understanding the lesson of “letting go” to let her children live their best lives too. She finally unpacked all the painful memories she had stashed away which was great to see.
So at the conclusion, I’m mostly satisfied but not completely. Not all questions were answered like who the ripped out face was in photos. That was just left open. Also, the big climatic show-down didn’t include Holly which was disappointing. I liked this spin but wanted a more dramatic scene with her defeating the villain instead of side characters doing so.
I think my favorite part was Christopher and I wanted him to have more page time, but you know me, a sucker for romance plots. If given the option, what I’d most change is the climatic scene. Other sidenotes: I don’t recall a variety of ethnic diversities mentioned other than knowing the main characters were from London. I also don’t remember any LGBTQ+ character representation.