Friday, January 22, 2016

Debbie--have you read... NEVER NEVER by Brianna R. Shrum

Over on Twitter, a colleague asked if I'd read Never Never by Brianna R. Shrum. I haven't, so here it is in the "Debbie--have you read..." series.

Never Never came out last year (2015) from Spencer Hill Press, which is an independent publishing house specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance for young adult readers. That description (from their website) makes me think I ought to go through their catalog. Based on my experience of reading children's books, including science fiction and fantasy, I know that a lot of writers create characters that have Native ancestry and because of this genre (SciFi/Fantasy), the characters have powers of some kind.

Here's the synopsis for Never Never:
James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up. When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man, James decides he could try being a child - at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children's dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to be a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up. But grow up he does. And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate. This story isn't about Peter Pan; it's about the boy whose life he stole. It's about a man in a world that hates men. It's about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan. Except one.

Here's the last line from the School Library Journal:

Filled with familiar characters such as the Lost Boys, the Darling children, and a bewitching and sensual Tiger Lily, Shrum's retelling is a deeply satisfying dark fantasy that just might change readers' perception of Peter Pan and Neverland itself. 

See that? A "bewitching and sensual Tiger Lily." If I get the book and read it, I'll be back.


ModernWizard said...

Based on the mere face that it features a "bewitching and sensual Tiger Lily," I'm going to go out on a limb and proclaim this a turd.

I have severe problems with all the white authors using Peter Pan as the basis for their YA fantasy jumping off point. Peter Pan is a problematic mess in many ways, and one has to address those problems in some way if one is using it as a foundational text now. However, even if an author tries to counteract some of the sexism, they almost always flunk their portrayal of the Pickaninny Indians, who are so overdetermined with racist tropes that their very name is a derogatory term for people of color. I would be very curious to see what an Indian and/or First Nations writer would do with the Indians, but I'm starting to think that white people just need to stay away from Peter Pan rewrites.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of your insight. Have you read UNHOOKED by Lisa Maxwell? It's another YA Peter Pan retelling, and it doesn't mention Native people at all. On one hand, I understand not wanting to get the representation wrong, but...erasing them entirely? There wasn't a single mention of them as existing somewhere in Neverland. It didn't sit well with me, but I'm curious what you think about that.

Debbie Reese said...

No, I haven't read it. By reading a bit about it, though, I wasn't seeing any mention of Tiger Lily. I wondered if that was just the usual invisibility of Native content, or, if there was none. I'm glad for your comment.

I don't think this is erasure of Native peoples, because the characters he created were detribalized, stereotypical caricatures and I think the parts where the Lost Boys play Indian encourage/affirm that activity--which I deem very harmful. Stereotypical imagery and related activity (mascots) have a detrimental impact on Native youth. See Stephanie Fryberg's research. Here's a link to her article:

In 2014, or 2015, the Native literary magazine, Four Winds, called for items that would "take back Tiger Lily." It generated a lot of intense discussion amongst Native people. I looked for it, but apparently the editors are on hiatus and it is not available right now. I did find an essay about the project itself, by Tiffany Midge, titled "What's There to Take Back?" Here's the link: