Karen Wallace's Wendy is a brilliantly-written book and an excellent read. In the best Shakespearean tradition, the author grounds her novel in an older, familiar work - J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan - but develops the basic elements of that novel in an original way, and explores some of its underlying concerns on another level altogether.
Most of us will remember from our own childhood that children are aware of far more than adults give them credit for. This is certainly the case in Wendy. As the title suggests, the world of Wendy is seen largely through Wendy's eyes. Anyone who has ever known - or for that matter been - a bright and sensitive young girl will recognize Wendy: perceptive, thoughtful, somewhat lonely. Her attachment to Nana (her dog and confidante), her attempt to make sense of seemingly bizarre adult behaviour, her strong feelings of responsibility for her younger siblings, her sense of what is right and wrong - all make her a realistic and appealing character to whom the reader becomes quite attached.
Childhood can, of course, be a difficult time, and the dark side of Edwardian family life appears in this novel. In the best fictional tradition of the young person finding his or her way in the world, Wendy and her brothers rely on themselves and on each other, as well as on various helpful and caring adults, to cope with their sometimes difficult life.
The novel is also very much about a young girl's growing awareness of the future choices awaiting her as a woman. These choices emerge clearly as the story evolves. Questions about what women can do and who women can be - raised naturally as an integral part of the narrative - are still relevant today for young girls.
The Peter Pan motif is brilliantly and lovingly woven into the novel in the person of a young artist, incapable of growing up, and fascinated by flying.
Wendy is hard to put down. The historical detail has been rendered meticulously, so that we really feel that we are in the rooms of the Darlings' house, in the streets of London, or in the English countryside, as the case may be. Not only is attention paid to the tiniest domestic details, but to the larger trends and movements of the day. The book shows us various attitudes to all kinds of contemporary issues, from the advent of the automobile to the suffragist movement.
I highly recommend Wendy for young readers. Adults will enjoy it as well. It is a pleasure to read such a carefully researched and written book. Wendy transports the reader into another era. It is a touching, engrossing, and both emotionally and intellectually satisfying book.