A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Offers details of language, culture, and customs from different Indigenous tribes and regions, particularly those in Oklahoma. The narrative is packed with big, impressive, vocabulary-building words like "nefarious," "decapitated," "preoccupation," and "disconcerting." Also bits of info about science and nature, like the fact that crocodiles are pretty good climbers.
Strong messages about family, resilience, and finding ways to stay connected whatever life brings. It's important to overcome your own fears and limitations to help your loved ones. Also emphasizes kindness, empathy, respect for cultural traditions, and mutual support -- and the possibility and promise of redemption when you've done wrong.
Positive Role Models
As seen here, Peter Pan has become quite a monster over the past century, kidnapping and imprisoning children, killing them when they turn 13, and massacring entire species of wildlife just for fun -- so Wendy and Lily have their work cut out for them. Lily is sensible and scientific, Wendy is dreamy and fond of fantasy, and they're sometimes on the outs -- but their family bond and their need to look out for Michael helps them save themselves and others. Many of the supporting characters offer help, loyalty, companionship, and more than a few laughs along the way.
Like the author, who was distressed as a child by the insulting portrayal of Native Americans in the original Peter Pan, main character Lily is Muscogee Creek. She and her English-born stepsister Wendy share a little brother, Michael. Neither Wendy nor Lily has much patience for ignorance and stereotypes, both of which they find in Neverland. Peter's treatment of abducted Indigenous kids, in Neverland and elsewhere, is often cruel and ignorant (including calling them "Injuns"), but they determinedly stick together, keep their traditions alive, and remember who they are. One of the Native characters describes herself as "two-spirit" (a term for someone who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit), explaining why Peter, who normally only abducts boys, ended up with her. Another stereotype-busting character explains that she fell prey to Peter's schemes by not looking "girly."
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Violence & Scariness
Peter has been kidnapping kids and holding them against their will for a century, feeding them to a crocodile when they turn 13. He's also been killing off most of the wildlife and stirring up warfare to keep himself entertained. There's lots of peril, swordplay, shooting of arrows, etc., but none of the characters comes to real harm -- though there's plenty of talk about characters in the past who've been made to walk the plank and plenty of singing about Davy Jones' locker. Perilous situations with near-drownings, scary caves. Different groups all think the other is evil and murderous, which is rarely the actual case, but they all have moments of seeming pretty scary. A boy in Neverland is reluctant to return home because he has an abusive, drunken stepfather.
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Lily and the other Native kids get really tired of being called insulting slurs like "Injun" and other terms that were plentiful in the original Peter Pan.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A lot of pirate singing of "yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum," but when it comes time to celebrate and break out the rum, the captain says firmly, "None for the sprogs." Fairy dust is seen as having long-term effects like memory loss and extreme self-absorption.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Sisters of the Neversea is an imaginative, engaging return to the world of Peter Pan. It's the work of Muscogee Creek author Cynthia Leitich Smith, who always loved the adventure and imagination of the original but was shocked by its ignorant, racist stereotypes about Native Americans. The story centers on two 12-year-old stepsisters -- one British-born, one Muscogee Creek -- who, along with their 4-year-old brother, are spirited away to a world populated by pirates, Merfolk, Indigenous people, Lost Boys, and Peter Pan. The latter has become a charming but self-absorbed and sometimes murderous tyrant (dispatching both kids and animals). There's lots of peril (near-drownings, scary caves, etc.), swordplay, shooting of arrows, etc., but none of the characters comes to real harm. One Indigenous character describes herself as "two-spirit" (both male and female), and the language, culture, and history of several Native tribes, particularly those in the Oklahoma area, are important to the story. In the background, the kids' parents may be splitting up, and they're all anxious about that. And a boy in Neverland is reluctant to return home because he has an abusive, drunken stepfather. There's a lot of pirate singing of "yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum," but when it comes time to celebrate and break out the rum, the captain says firmly, "None for the sprogs." Fairy dust is seen as having long-term effects like memory loss and extreme self-absorption. Expect strong messages of family, belonging, respect for your own culture (and others), kindness, resilience, and redemption.
Is It Any Good?
If you loved the adventure but hated the racism and sexism of the original Peter Pan, you're not alone. So did author Cynthia Leitich Smith, who spins a beautifully written return to Neverland here. The Sisters of the Neversea face a lot of challenges, from their parents' impending split to dealing with Peter Pan (who's now 100 years older, but hardly seems to have aged a day) and the havoc he's been wreaking on Neverland and its inhabitants. Expect much peril, much emotional relatability, much respect for cultural traditions, and strong messages about building bonds that survive life's turmoil.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.