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3.8 6
by Karen Wallace

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Wendy's imagination never runs away from her -- it flies.
Wendy Darling is not the perfect girl her parents would like her to be. Intrepid, outspoken, and willful, she's always getting into trouble. One evening, confined to the nursery by her horrible nanny, she sneaks out to spy on one of her parents' glamorous parties.
Their world is lavish, rich


Wendy's imagination never runs away from her -- it flies.
Wendy Darling is not the perfect girl her parents would like her to be. Intrepid, outspoken, and willful, she's always getting into trouble. One evening, confined to the nursery by her horrible nanny, she sneaks out to spy on one of her parents' glamorous parties.
Their world is lavish, rich with excess -- and off limits to Wendy. On this evening Wendy uncovers a secret she had not bargained for. It catapults both her and her brothers, Michael and John, into a series of confusing events as she tries to make sense of the mystery and intrigue that lie at the heart of her family.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wallace imagines the well-to-do Edwardian household and society that engulfs Wendy Darling before she meets Peter Pan. The girl learns more than she bargains for when she sees her father kissing a neighbor's wife. Ages 12-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2004: You remember the Darling family from Peter Pan—Wendy is the oldest, with two younger brothers, and a beloved dog, Nana. Peter Pan is not in this book at all. Instead, Wallace focuses on the troubled lives of an upper-class family in London in the early part of the 20th century. Wendy is not yet a teenager, but she is trying to make sense out of the grown-ups around her. For instance, she realizes that her father is having an affair with a neighbor. Wendy and her brothers are terrorized by a sadistic governess. Wendy's father is obsessed with his new motorcar, and his reckless behavior takes the family to the brink of financial ruin. Meanwhile, at the country home of Wendy's kindly uncle and aunt, there is an older boy whose relationship to the family is not spelled out. Wendy sees her mother embrace the adolescent boy and fears that her mother is also having an adulterous affair. So, while this is basically a story from a child's point of view (Wendy is about 10 years old), the subject matter fits into the YA category. Wallace writes about major issues of the times—cars replacing horse-drawn carriages; the fight for women's suffrage; the subservient role of women and the frustrations they face dealing with their husbands; the lowly place of children in a household. It is a fine supplement to the Peter Pan story. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2003, Simon & Schuster, Pulse, 307p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Claire Rosser
Children's Literature
The expectation is that this prequel to the story of Peter Pan will open up the world of Wendy Darling before she flies off to Never Never Land. But rather than a thoughtful or imaginative prelude to a world of dreams and fantasy, we are led through a sordid soap opera in which Wendy's father is an alcoholic with a mistress, the children's nanny beats them, Wendy has a mentally retarded brother who is hidden away, and most of the main characters are downright nasty to each other, their servants, and especially to the suffragettes. One particularly mean little girl even uses the sexual exploits of the grown-ups as the story line when she and Wendy play house with their dolls. If young Peter Pan fans read this book as they will be inclined to do, they are likely to raise many questions, concerns and even fears that have nothing to do with Captain Hook or the ticking crocodile. 2003, Simon and Schuster, Ages 12 to 14.
— Karen Leggett
Wendy Darling spends a great deal of her time being afraid, sad, and angry. She and her brothers fear their sadistic nanny who force feeds them castor oil, they are saddened by their parents' seeming lack of interest in them, and they are angered that they are helpless to do anything about their situation. Nine-year-old Wendy, an imaginative daydreamer, has conversations with her dog, Nana. Mr. Darling is only interested in showing off his new "motor-car" and giving fancy parties. Mrs. Darling seems only to want to wear the latest fashions from Europe and not get her hair mussed by her offspring. Wendy's feelings for her parents change drastically when she sees her father kissing the pretentious Lady Cunningham, whose children torment the Darlings when they play together. Eventually the siblings are allowed to visit the country, where they are free to roam and are doted on by their aunt and uncle and their servants. Wendy is extremely fond of Thomas, a mentally challenged teenaged boy who lives and works there. Thomas paints a picture with flying people because Wendy read a book about airplanes to him. Wendy's turbulent thoughts about her parents begin to spiral out of control when Mr. Darling loses money in the stock market and Wendy sees her mother kissing Thomas. Wallace's clear-cut writing has plenty of the melancholy, conflicting emotions, and tension that is part of the adolescent years. The story's interesting premise, which is loosely based on the story of Peter Pan, and satisfying conclusion might make some readers eager for a sequel. VOYA Codes: 3Q 2P M J (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2003, Simon & Schuster, 304p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Brenda Moses-Allen
School Library Journal
Gr 8-10-A story about Wendy Darling before she met Peter Pan. Punished one evening by the horrible and abusive Nanny Holborn, she sneaks out of the nursery to spy on one of her parents' glamorous parties. When she sees her father kiss Lady Cunningham on the mouth, Wendy is confused and stunned. After she and her brothers are sent to Uncle Arthur's country estate for the summer, Mr. Darling sinks lower, crashing his car while driving drunk, losing all of his money, and getting fired from his job. Wendy loves being at Rosegrove, where she is able to see Thomas, a teenager considered "soft in the head." Seeing her mother hugging him confuses Wendy even more. She eventually learns that Thomas is her brother, who was not perfect enough for her father. In a rapid and pat conclusion, Mr. Darling reforms, the Cunninghams move away, and Thomas's artistic abilities are recognized. Wallace draws an interesting portrait of the world of the privileged classes in early-20th-century London. There are some elements of fantasy: Wendy can read the thoughts of Nana, the big black Newfoundland that dispenses advice; and her final dream of flying comes from a creation of Thomas's mind, a young boy who would never grow up. But who is the audience for this novel? The protagonist, while old for her years, is only nine, yet the themes seem more appropriate for older readers. An additional purchase where rewritten and expanded fairy tales are in demand.-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
What was Wendy Darling's life like before the coming of Peter Pan? In this twisted but ultimately comforting retelling, the Darling children live in a horrific web of Victorian hypocrisy. Mother is distracted, Nanny is a child-hating sadist, and Father is a drunken social climber who is carrying on an affair with vicious Lady Cunningham. Wendy tries-with varying success-to protect her brothers from the harshest realities of their lives. Her only comfort is the family's annual visit to her uncle's home, where she can see her dear friend Thomas. Thomas is a childlike carpenter's son, a mentally disabled artist who is the focus of Wendy's affection and mothering. When Wendy, already disillusioned with her philandering father, witnesses Thomas in her mother's arms, she's overwhelmed with bitterness. The poignancy of Wendy's coming-of-age is somewhat marred by too many narrative viewpoints. This tale's not stellar as a stand-alone, but deftly exposes the incestuous darkness that underlies Barrie's original. (Fiction. 12-14)

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

'Your pa's fair posh,' said the butcher's boy to Wendy Darling when he saw her in the kitchen. He banged down a wide, flat box on the table. 'All the way from France, these are.' He looked sideways at Wendy's thick golden hair and her big, black-lashed blue eyes. You'll break some hearts one day, young miss.

'On your way, Eddie,' said Mrs Jenkins, the cook, firmly. 'And don't forget my sausages tomorrow. There'll be a cup of tea for you if they're fresh.'

Eddie grinned and left the kitchen. That Mrs Jenkins, she had eyes in the back of her head.

Mrs Jenkins turned to the box on the table. 'Baby chickens!' she said in a disgusted voice. 'No taste to 'em at all! What's wrong with a good English cockerel straight from the farmyard?'

Wendy opened the box and saw twenty-four tiny feathered bodies lying side by side, packed in newspaper. She picked one up. Its bones were fine as hairpins and its floppy neck was thinner than her finger. Mrs Jenkins was right. What was the point of them? Each bird seemed barely bigger than a mouthful. 'Can I help you pluck them, Mrs Jenkins?'

'If you put your apron on, dear.'

An hour later, Wendy watched as Mrs Jenkins seasoned the tiny chickens with thyme and wrapped them in fat bacon. 'There's not many knows how to keep 'em juicy,' she said to herself proudly, banging a body into the roasting pan. 'New-fangled nonsense!'

'Putrefaction,' said Wendy sternly.

'Yes, dear.' Mrs Jenkins was used to Wendy saying strange things. The girl was only nine but she often seemed more grown up than her age. She spent half her time with her head in a book and the other half grubbing about in the garden with her magnifying glass.

'It means rot.'

Last summer, Wendy had wrapped a dead blackbird in greased muslin and buried it for a month, then dug it up and looked at it through the magnifying glass. Her brother John had been sick.

'It's what happens to dead things,' said Wendy to Mrs Jenkins. She drew her eyebrows together. 'Do you think these baby chickens have maggots inside? Extra wriggly French maggots?'

'I doubt your father would thank me for serving rotten meat.' Mrs Jenkins rolled her eyes. 'These birds cost a pretty penny, I can tell you.'

Wendy clicked her tongue. It would be just like her father to show off. He always had to have the latest thing. Then he had to make sure that everyone knew how clever he was.

'I think it's a terrible waste of money, Mrs Jenkins. Why can't Father's friends eat pigeon pie like we do? Then he could give the money he saved to the poor families who need it.'

By now all of the little birds were seasoned and wrapped in bacon. 'It's that Lady Cunningham,' said Mrs Jenkins in a flat voice. 'She and Sir Alfred are coming to the dinner this evening. Your father thinks she likes foreign food.' Mrs Jenkins picked up a chicken and jabbed the sharp end of a skewer in one end and out the other.

'Why are you stabbing them?' asked Wendy. She looked at Mrs Jenkins sideways. 'It's not their fault they're French.'

'I'm not stabbing them.' Mrs Jenkins laughed. 'It's the heat from the skewer that cooks them fast and keeps them juicy.'

'First they're strangled, then they're stabbed,' said Wendy. 'I'm glad I'm not French.'

'I expect your mother and father are too, dear.'

Mrs Jenkins slid the last two bodies onto their skewer and fitted them into the roasting pan. Wendy swung a wooden spoon back and forth in front of her face like a metronome. She stared at the huge Welsh dresser on the far side of the kitchen. Its shelves were stacked with china mixing bowls and metal moulds for jelly and baking tins for Mrs Jenkins's superb cakes. Underneath the shelves, copper-bottomed saucepans hung in a row according to size.

'Do you think the big preserving pan would sound like a drum and the tiny pot like a triangle if I hit them with this spoon?'

'I couldn't rightly say, dear,' said Mrs Jenkins, not really listening.

Wendy stared down at the row of wrapped bodies stuck with skewers.

'If God lets this happen to little birds, why shouldn't it happen to children? It says in the Bible -'

'Wendy!' snapped Mrs Jenkins. 'For goodness' sake, stop asking silly questions or I'll ruin these birds and your mother will have my guts for garters.'

'I'm sorry.'

Mrs Jenkins wished she hadn't spoken so sharply. She knew perfectly well that Wendy had hardly anyone to talk to besides her brother John, and even though he was seven, he seemed much younger. As for their nanny - well, Mrs Jenkins was convinced that women like Edwina Holborn should be dragged out at dawn and shot.

'Nothing to be sorry about,' said Mrs Jenkins in a kinder voice. 'But there's a time and place for everything.' She held out a white napkin folded into a parcel. 'Now, here's a treat for you. They're your mama's favourite and I made them specially.'

'Is it new-fangled foreign food?'

Mrs Jenkins smiled. 'Find out for yourself. Run along now, or that nanny will be after you.'

Wendy pulled open the napkin and saw a tiny glazed tart stuffed with a creamy filling. A sprinkling of black dots gleamed on the top. It looked more like a brooch than something you would eat. 'Thank you,' she said. But Mrs Jenkins had turned to a mountain of scallop shells in the shallow stone sink.

Two minutes later, Wendy was climbing up the back stairs towards the nursery. Everything was quiet, thank goodness. Horrible Nanny Holborn was still out with John and Michael at the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens.

Poor John and Michael.

She held the napkin parcel tightly in her hand. Mrs Jenkins was her favourite person in the house, after John and Nana, of course. As she reached the third flight of stairs, she heard Liza, the housemaid, singing from behind the ironing-room door, one of those music-hall songs about moonlight and violets. Wendy smiled to herself. Liza was really singing about Charlie Pickles, the carpenter's apprentice from the mews behind Kensington Place. It was supposed to be a secret but she had heard Liza telling Mrs Jenkins that she and Charlie were engaged to be married.

Wendy climbed up the last flight of stairs and turned down the corridor. It wasn't often Liza sang. Liza knew to keep quiet if Nanny Holborn was about. Nanny Holborn had lost two fiancés in the South African War so she didn't hold with men because all they did was let you down. If she ever heard Liza singing or saw her smiling to herself, Nanny Holborn always went into a fury. No matter how quickly Liza finished her work on her afternoon off, there was always an extra job waiting for her. More often than not it was well into the afternoon before Liza could pin on her hat and take a turn with Charlie around the park.

Poor Liza! She never used to have anything to do with Nanny Holborn. Then Agnes, the nursery maid, had given in her notice and her father hadn't taken on a replacement, which was odd because he always seemed proud that the Darlings had more servants than most of their friends. So Liza was doing two jobs now.

'Not that I mind too much,' she told Wendy. 'Me and Charlie'll need the money to get married. There just ain't enough hours in the day, that's all.'

Wendy crept quickly past the ironing-room door so as not to disturb Liza. She turned the brass handle of the nursery door as gently as she could and closed it softly behind her.

A big black Newfoundland dog looked up from a basket on the linoleum floor. She flopped her tail but didn't get up.

Wendy knelt down beside the basket.

'Nana,' she whispered, 'I've had an idea. It's probably really stupid.' She opened the white napkin parcel. 'Mrs Jenkins says this is one of Mother's favourite things.' She looked into the dog's brown, bloodshot eyes. It was her favourite thing to imagine that Nana could talk. 'I'm going to send myself into a trance like those snake charmers do in India. Then I'm going to eat this tart and see if I can imagine what it's like to be Mother.'

Nana looked at the tart, wrinkled her nose and rested her wide head on her paws again. You're mad.

Wendy buried her face in the dog's loose, glossy fur and laughed. 'Mother says that some mad people are really geniuses.' She held out the napkin in front of her and closed her eyes. Then she swayed from side to side and hummed tunelessly. A moment later she whisked the tart from the napkin and put the whole thing in her mouth.

It was absolutely disgusting.

What she had thought would be sweet creamy custard was a fishy mush that tasted sharp and rotten at the same time. The pastry was peppery and oily, and the shiny little black dots that should have been liquorice were salty and foul and popped in her mouth as if they were insects' eggs. Wendy spat the tart back into the napkin.

Heavy footsteps clumped up the stairs. Lighter footsteps pounded down the corridor.

'Wendy! Wendy!' shouted John at the top of his voice.

'Stop running!' snapped Nanny Holborn, 'or there will be no staying up this evening.'

The pounding stopped.

Wendy wiped her mouth on her sleeves. 'What am I going to do, Nana?'

I'll think of something.

'Hurry up!' croaked Wendy.

Wasting food was a sin close to blasphemy as far as Nanny Holborn was concerned. Every plate had to be cleaned. Every vile crust had to be properly chewed and swallowed. If not, it would appear without fail at the next meal.

Wendy looked down at the filthy mouthful of tart in the napkin. 'Nana! She'll make me eat it!'

'Wendy! Wendy! I can sail my boat by myself!' John rushed into the nursery, holding up his sailboat like a trophy above his head. His brown eyes shone with excitement under his short, straight black hair. 'It worked, what you showed me!'

At the same moment, Nana pushed her nose into the white napkin parcel and gobbled up the tart in one mouthful.

John stared at his sister as she stuffed the napkin down the front of her pinafore. 'What — '

Wendy shook her head and put a finger to her lips.

'I didn't mean to,' Michael was wailing in the corridor. 'I couldn't help it. I promise, Nanny, I couldn't help it.'

Nanny Holborn appeared at the door, clutching Wendy's youngest brother by the collar. She was a tall woman with thin lips and a bony face and eyes that glinted like metal. She wore a long, navy-blue cloak and a high, black bonnet. Beside her, Michael howled and tried to pull away from her grip. He was dark-haired like his brother but his face was round and chubby.

'You're a nasty, dirty little boy,' snarled Nanny Holborn. She frogmarched Michael across the room towards a screen on the far side. 'And a disgrace to your family.'

'How does your boat sail, John?' asked Wendy quickly.

'Like a winner,' said John. 'She'll make a Channel crossing next.'

Nanny Holborn's head swung around like the muzzle of a gun. 'Did you lie down on your bed, as you were told?'

'Yes, Nanny,' said Wendy. She forced herself to look at Nanny Holborn's tin-coloured eyes. They were furious as usual. 'I looked at my encyclopaedias.'

'Did you let that filthy dog outside to do its business?'

'Yes, Nanny.' Wendy looked sideways at Nana.

Takes one to know one.

'Humph,' muttered Nanny Holborn as if she was trying to make up her mind about something. She disappeared behind the screen, dragging Michael with her as if he was a sack of dirty laundry.

'Please, Nanny!' cried John. 'You won't change your mind, will you?'

Wendy's heart thumped in her chest. Yesterday, Nanny Holborn had promised they could watch the guests go in to dinner and count the dishes of food that were carried in after them.

'I bet there will be more than a hundred plates, Nanny,' gabbled John hopelessly.

All they could see behind the screen was the back of Nanny Holborn's navy serge skirt and the tie of her white apron.

'We've been very good,' pleaded John. 'Haven't we, Wendy?'

'We have,' cried Wendy.

They heard a sticky wet sound as Nanny Holborn stripped off Michael's soaked trousers.

'I want to see Mother all shiny!' wailed Michael.

There was a hard slap, then a high-pitched scream.

Nanny Holborn appeared with Michael, half-naked, in her arms. A wide red welt was spreading across his upper thigh.

Michael buried his face in Nanny Holborn's hard starched collar and sobbed.

Metal screeched on linoleum as Nanny Holborn dragged a grey tin bath in front of the fire and tipped in two enormous jugs of hot water. Even though there was running water in the house, she insisted on bathing Michael like a baby. She tested the water with her elbow and plunged Michael into the bath. Then she turned to where Wendy and John were standing in the middle of the nursery.

'Don't stand there gawping,' she snapped. 'Eat your tea. Then bath and straight to bed for both of you.'

'But, Nanny!' cried John. 'You promised.'

Nanny Holborn fixed him with her crazy metal eyes. 'One more word out of you and you'll be sorry.'

'I hate her,' whispered John when tea was finally over and they had had their baths. 'I wish she was dead.' He stood on his tiptoes and hung up his wool dressing gown in the cupboard in their night nursery next door.

Wendy yanked off her own dressing gown and dropped it on the floor. 'Did you see the colour of Michael's leg?'

John bent down and picked up the dressing gown. The idea of any more trouble was unbearable.

'He's only four,' said Wendy furiously. 'Anyone can have an accident.' She pulled back her sheet and swung herself into the bed that was nearest the window. 'I'm going to tell Mother. I swear I will.'

John put his sheepskin slippers neatly together and climbed into his own bed. He lay down as still as a dead body. 'What good would that do?' he said. 'She couldn't look after us. Besides, she'd never believe you. Grown-ups never do.'

Wendy thought of the disgusting tart Mrs Jenkins had made for her mother. How could it be one of her favourite things? 'Grown-ups make me sick,' she muttered.

'Me too.'

Outside the window a hansom cab rattled to a stop on the cobbles. 'Number 14, guv,' said a voice. Money clinked. 'Very generous, guv.'

'The guests are arriving,' said John, sniffing.

There was a creak of bedsprings as Wendy slid out of bed and put on her dressing gown.

'Wendy,' whispered John in a horrified voice, 'what are you doing?'

She crept across the room and sat on her brother's bed. 'Nanny Holborn will be snoring by now,' she said in a low voice. 'Come on. She always falls asleep in front of the fire. I often sneak out to watch.'

John's eyes were wide in the dim light. 'Watch what?'

'Anything that moves or talks. I'm doing a survey of everything that happens in the house.' Wendy cocked her head. 'For example, so far I've discovered that Liza always examines her teeth in the landing mirror.'

'What if we get caught?'

'Don't be so wet! Do you want to see the guests arriving or not?'

'Of course I do,' said John sulkily.

'Then follow me and we won't get caught. I know a way across the nursery floor that doesn't creak.' Wendy fixed her brother with a stern eye. 'But you have to step exactly where I step. Do you understand?'

'OK. As long as you promise we won't get caught.'

'Trust me!' Wendy went over to the night-nursery door and put her ear to the keyhole. 'Wait for my signal.' Then, more quietly than John could have believed possible, she turned the handle and opened the door.

The nursery was lit by the orange glow of the coal fire. In the corner, Michael was sound asleep in the nursery cot, curled up in a miserable hump with his thumb in his mouth. He had been put to bed on his own as a punishment for wetting his trousers. In front of the fire, Nanny Holborn was slumped in her padded wooden chair. Her white indoor cap had slipped down her forehead and a ball of wool had tumbled from her lap and lay beside a basket of socks on the floor.

Wendy held her breath and listened to the dragon's steady snores. Satisfied, she turned around and signalled to John.

Copyright © 2003 by Karen Wallace

Meet the Author

Karen Wallace is the author of more than ninety books, including the novel Raspberries on the Yangtze and the picture books I Am a Tyrannosaurus and Think of an Eel. Karen also writes for children¹s television. She lives with her husband, novelist Sam Llewellyn; two sons, Will and Martin; and two Maine Coon cats, Cougar and Dave, in England.

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Wendy 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book wasnt a fairy tale, but the story of Wendy's screwed up life and her introduction into the adult world. It tells you why the Darling children needed Peter Pan. A very good story, and an easy read too. More for fans of Finding Neverland than Peter Pan.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wendy was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders before Peter Pan came. I loved how Karen Wallace wrote this book from many different points of view. I was definetly in the mood to watch Peter Pan after reading this! It was very good!
Guest More than 1 year ago
being that Peter Pan is one f my favorite movies and books i was very excited to read this novel.. It is very well written giving you an inside look into Wendy's life before peter and neverland. it was dissapoiting because people who know and love the book didnt expect Wendy's life to be such a mess before she went to neverland...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I felt it was perfectly horrid. Here she takes a time honored classic and turns it into some sort of soap opera for nine year olds! Its injust! James M. Barrie wrote of a beautiful place with a happy home life, and parents that missed their children very much when they were in neverland. He even said that Mr.Darling had given up alot for them to be happy. How dare she make such a horrible story? I believe that if the story of Peter Pan were a living breathing person, than Miss Wallace should be charged with murder. She put a knife through the heart of every childs dream.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this bookits perfectly charming! I only have a few more pages to go and Im positive my opinion on the book wont change since I know what will happen (Peter coming and whisking her off to neverland!) Its satisfying in everyway and you find yourself thinking 'Why is a child of only nine having to live wiht this!?' its perfect!