Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Sisters of the Neversea


Goodreads: Sisters of the Neversea
Series: None

Official Summary

In this modern take of the popular classic Peter Pan, award-winning author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek) brilliantly shifts the focus from the boy who won’t grow up to Native American Lily and English Wendy—stepsisters who must face both dangers and wonders to find their way back to the family they love.

Stepsisters Lily and Wendy embark on a high-flying journey of magic, adventure, and courage—to a fairy-tale island known as Neverland.

Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship?

Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children.

A boy who calls himself Peter Pan.

Star Divider


A Peter Pan retelling from the perspectives of (Tiger) Lily and Wendy promised a magical adventure. Unfortunately, however, a lack of characterization, a turn away from the darkness of the original tale, and a heaping does of heavy-handed moralizing made Sisters of the Neversea a lackluster read for me. The reading experience was so disappointing that, in fact, I almost chose not to finish the book at all. I wish I had better things to say about a book with such an exciting premise, but Sisters of the Neversea is not the retelling for me.

The main draw of the book for readers seems to be that Sisters of the Neversea is a reimagining of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan that emphasizes the female characters and points out many of the flaws the original has in its depictions of Native Americans and women. This is a laudable goal. However, the characterization of the female characters leaves much to be desired. Lily and Wendy are said by the narrator to be very different, one practical and one fanciful, but, in practice, their characters read about the same way. Additionally, the narrator spends a lot of time telling readers that the characters are a particular way, but these supposed traits are never demonstrated by the characters in the story.

Tinker Bell, the other main female character, receives the same treatment; the narrator spends a lot of time telling readers what Tinker Bell thinks and why she is doing things, but does not really let Tinker Bell simply act. The narrator’s input further has the unfortunate effect of making it seem rather as if the readers are assumed not to be intelligent enough to figure out the fairy’s motives, were they not explicitly told. The spelling out of ideas, themes, and lessons is, however, a trademark of the book.

The author’s input is most clearly seen in the explicit moral lessons integrated throughout the story. For example, when Peter Pan calls Lily and her brother a name not used by their tribe, the narrator is sure to tell readers that Peter is rude and presumptuous. When Peter suggests that Wendy engages in traditional feminine roles, Wendy and the narrator make sure that readers know Peter is being a sexist jerk, and that Wendy’s stepmother is an accountant. When Peter assumes some of the Lost Boys are boys, the narrator again interjects to let readers know that Peter is wrong and presumptuous. Readers may rejoice to see that the Peter Pan of Barrie’s original work is being called out. Yet the fact remains that having a narrator spell out moral lessons in the middle of a story is not always great storytelling. The story would flow more effectively if the readers could see the lessons played out by the characters, instead of having an authorial voice interjecting all the time.

My final issue with the work is that, though one might think that calling out the original book’s flaws would result in a story just as dark as the original, Sisters of the Neversea is actually a comparatively tame work, almost as if the story wishes to protect its young readers from anything too scary. Neverland is said to be a dangerous place, yet the only dangerous person on the island is Peter Pan himself–everyone else is trying to stop him, and thus are good allies for the protagonists. Oh, there are hints about the wicked deeds Pan has done, such as making some animals go extinct or feeding people to crocodiles, but one never really feels that Lily and Wendy are in any imminent peril. But the sense of peril is what keeps a fantasy adventure story alive. Without it, the plot just slogs on.

The premise for Sisters of the Neversea is absolutely wonderful. And certainly Native children deserve more accurate representation in literature–something better than what J. M. Barrie gave readers. Yet the premise is not enough to carry this story. The poor characterization, authorial interjections, and lack of peril combine to create an unremarkable tale.

3 Stars

2 thoughts on “Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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