Friday, December 6, 2013

Book Review: Second Star to the Right

By Jami Deise

While fairy tales have taken on new life lately – the Once Upon a Time shows, the movies – there’s always been something special and enduring about Peter Pan. I think that’s because, arguably, Peter Pan is the only tale that stars a boy and is for boys (even though the story is told from Wendy’s point of view.) It was definitely my son’s favorite story when he was a pre-schooler. Not only was the Disney cartoon in permanent rotation at our house, but we found a video of Cathy Rigby’s Broadway Peter Pan. There is nothing more charming than a four-year-old lisping, “I gotta crow” along with a Broadway star/gymnast. So when the opportunity to review Mary Alice Monroe’s twist on J.M. Barrie’s classic, naturally I jumped. Not having been sprinkled with fairy dust, I did not fly, but I can promise you, Ms. Monroe’s story did.

American Faye O’Neill has just moved to London with her two children, eight year-old Maddie and six year-old Tom; the latter suffers from selective mutism, having gotten caught in a particularly violent fight between his parents. Faye had been a stay-at-home mom, but after a nasty divorce and a minor incident of child kidnapping, she’s resumed her advertising career in London. She’s rented a charming flat in a triplex that was once a large single family home. Her landlord, Jane, warns her that her elderly mother, Wendy, who lives upstairs, is upset by children and should not be bothered by them under any circumstance. But Jack, the American physicist who lives downstairs, tells that Wendy is delightful … and don’t worry about her nickname, Crazy Wendy. That’s only because Wendy insists that she is the Wendy in J. M. Barrie’s famous story… and that Peter Pan was and is very real.

Like most children, Maddie and Tom are fascinated by what is forbidden, and although Faye tries to keep them busy cleaning the garden and its Peter Pan fountain, soon they find their way to Wendy’s apartment. And Wendy adores them. Although Jane is horrified, Faye – preoccupied with work and a budding attraction to Jack – can’t see the harm in an old lady who loves telling stories and throwing tea parties. Perhaps she missed the part where Wendy believes that children can fly… Meanwhile, Jack, who was adopted from a British orphanage at a young age and brought to America, decides to learn more about his childhood. Could Wendy hold the key?

Second Star to the Right is a charming book, easy accessible even to readers who aren’t Peter Pan fans (are there any?). Faye is a heroine who is easy to root for; her broken marriage has left her determined not to believe in magic and to teach her children to be practical and pragmatic. Maddie and Tom are adorable, all wide-eyed innocence and love. And Jack, like many men in more standard chick-lit fare, is the real-life version of Peter Pan: an adult male who refuses to grow up.

I only have two quibbles about the novel: one, I felt that the subplot with Faye and her job lacked the magic and subtext that suffused the rest of the book. On its own, it would have been fine, but as part of this wonderful story, it just fell flat. Secondly, there were set-ups about Faye’s husband that did not pan out in any way. I’m a firm believer of the old adage about rifles above the fireplace; this one did not go off.

Monroe has adopted a writing style that feels very English fairy-tale like, even though the book is written for adults. It’s a warm, cozy novel, filled with description and tea parties and English gardens. Other than a few details about Faye and Jack’s relationship, Second Star to the Right would be a wonderful book to read aloud to any Peter Pan fan who has reached the middle grades. It would also make a great gift for anyone who loves the movie “Miracle on 34th Street.”

The ultimate Peter Pan fans know the story – how Peter flew off to the Neverland one night, only to return home years later to find his nursery window barred and his mother holding a new baby. Some fans even sleep with the window open, hoping to find Peter on the floor, crying over his shadow. My son was never that obsessed, but during the height of his Peter Pan mania, we planned a trip to Disney World. Most children would have been excited by the rides or by Mickey, but all my Pan-obsessed, consumerist son would talk about was “the Peter Pan store.” He babbled that as soon as we crossed through Cinderella’s castle, we would turn left and it would be right there. I humored him, bracing myself for his disappointment when we got there and there was no Peter Pan store. But as soon as we went through the castle and turned left, there was the famous Peter Pan ride. And attached to it was an elaborate gift shop filled with Peter Pan items – “the Peter Pan store.” I asked him how he knew about it, but he shrugged and said he “just knowed.”

Maybe one night Peter had come to my son’s window after all.

Thanks to Mary Alice Monroe for the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out the other reviews, interviews and giveaways on her blog tour:

Dec 1: Tome Tender (giveaway ends 12/10)
Dec 2:  Maurice on Books (end date unknown for giveaway)
Dec 3:  Seaside Book Corner
Dec 4:  A Work in Progress
Dec 5: Angie Mizzell
Dec 6: W3 Sidecar
Dec 7: Book Mama Blog and Sean Keefer-The Trust

More by Mary Alice Monroe:

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