Five Reasons to Read: Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith – A Critical Yet Joyous Reimagining of Peter Pan that Centers Indigenous Perspectives

Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Tagline: Lily and Wendy are taking their story back. Reviewed by CW, The Quiet Pond.

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.

One of the biggest reasons why I love a good retelling of a classic is how the retelling reimagines the story from a modern perspective. Classics, though beloved for good reason, aren’t always perfect and oftentimes carry with them archaic and harmful perspectives that reflects the times in which it is written.

Peter Pan is one such story that has its issues – though joyous and transportive in its story, able to spark a sense of adventure in younger readers, its depiction of Indigenous people, specifically Native-American people, are rooted in racism and colonialism. Therefore, when I read Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith, I loved that the retelling captures the joy of wonder and adventure of the Peter Pan while also bringing Indigenous characters to the center.

Retelling lovers, listen closely! Today, I’m excited to share with you my five reasons why you should pick up Sisters of the Neversea.

1. It’s about Wendy and Lily

Something that I loved about Sisters of the Neversea was how the story was, primarily, about Wendy and Lily. If Lily sounds familiar, you’d be onto something – she’s a re-imagining of ‘Tiger Lily’ from the original Peter Pan story. In this story though, English Wendy and Native-American Lily are step-sisters, whose parents are on the verge of divorce. I loved that Wendy and Lily’s different personalities emerge in the story, and even though they are so different to one another, they have a close and loving bond where, even if they’re step sisters, they love each other and will do anything to protect each other.

2. Peter Pan isn’t just the carefree boy that we know

But if you love the Peter Pan story for Peter Pan himself, Peter definitely gets a few perspective chapters and is pivotal to the story. Though, the Peter that we know from the Disney adaptation is very different to the Peter in Sisters of the Neversea – though Peter is indeed carefree and adventurous and loves a bit of fun, he’s given so much more complexity – and readers may also find themselves disliking Peter. Indeed, the story lays out his issues and faults plainly for the reader to make their own judgements about him.

3. The story playfully critiques the original story’s racism and sexism

What I loved about Sisters of the Neversea is that it explores and challenges the original story’s colonial undertones, misogyny, and racist depictions of Native American people. Importantly, Sisters of the Neversea has developed Native American characters that are integral to Wendy and Lily’s journey across the story. Moreover, Tinkerbell plays an important role in the story too, and is given so much more agency and complexity than the mere ‘fairy that has a crush on Peter with a temper’. Though racism and sexism are heavy things to tackle, Smith does all this with playful and funny storytelling.

4. You will feel like you’ve been on an adventure

Sisters of the Neversea is critical of the original story, yes, but it does not lose any of the original story’s wonder and joy and sense of adventure – and what an adventure Sisters of the Neversea is! I loved traversing across Neverland with Wendy and Lily and seeing the different parts of Neverland reimagined and fleshed out. The story retains some of the original story’s beats, but imbues them with a fresh and exciting take where readers will enjoy the newness and different angle, but will also appreciate its familiarity.

5. The storytelling is such a delight!

Tying together everything awesome about Sisters of the Neversea is Smith’s delightful and whimsical storytelling. There are times where the story breaks the fourth wall, where readers are let onto secrets to foreshadow the story that’s to come. I thoroughly enjoyed how playful and fun the storytelling was, and I can envision that younger readers will love it too. Listening to the audiobook for Sisters of the Neversea was a pleasure – and if you can listen to the audiobook too, I highly recommend it; Katie Anvil Rich’s performance is fantastic!

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A reimagining of Peter Pan, step-sisters Wendy and Lily are whisked away to Neverland by Peter Pan, but discover that all is not what it seems.

Perfect for: Readers who enjoy retellings; readers looking for a critical retelling of Peter Pan; readers who love fun, adventure stories with playful storytelling.

Think twice if: You’re not looking for a story with a younger voice.

Genre: middle-grade fantasy adventure

Trigger/content warning: mentions of death, mild violence, allusions to violence against Native-American people

Find this book on:
Goodreads | Bookshop | Indiebound | Amazon | My short review on Goodreads

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