In a touching re-imagining of Peter Pan; writer Melissa Jane Osborne and artist Veronica Fish tell a story of loss, grief, and the value of belief. Wendy Davies is driving her brothers John and Michael home when a distraction causes her to lose control of the car, sending it over the edge of a bridge and into a lake. While she’s in the water, Wendy sees a shadowy figure flying away with Michael in hand. When the kids are rescued, Michael’s body is nowhere to be found. After the accident, John no longer speaks and Wendy experiences the world as Neverland. Wendy sees popular girls at school as fairies and mermaids, and develops a crush on a classmate with remarkable similarities to Peter Pan. Throughout the book, Wendy tries her best navigate the daily troubles common to any teenager while struggling with what she knows to be true—that Michael isn’t dead, merely stolen away to an unreachable place. Her parents bring her to a therapist, who asks her to draw what she is experiencing, “whatever seems too crazy for this world.” Her drawings become a part of the narrative of The Wendy Project, turning Wendy into more of a co-creator than a character.
It can be difficult to write characters in re-imagined stories, as the reader usually brings with them their own expectations of what they should find. Osborne manages this wonderfully, creating a well-defined character with believable motivations and desires. As might be expected from a story that focuses on Wendy, there is a heart-wrenching tension between childhood and adulthood. She wants to grow up, but also tries to hold onto something that is slowly washing away, just as she tries many times to fly but always finds herself grounded.
Much like in Peter Pan stories, a lot lives in the shadows, whether the shadows disobey the actions of their people or exist independently of any subject. Many artists use shadowed figures to fill the background of a scene with many characters, but now every shadow feels important, suspicious. The shadows are a weighted presence for Wendy, though for other characters they outline a lack—an empty chair at the dinner table, for example, is felt strongly as an absence by her family, though we can see the purple shadow that lingers there.
The visual details are incredibly impactful in this story. Like many high school dances, the homecoming dance Wendy attends is themed “under the sea.” Given her circumstances, this is not just visual filler but a rather painful reminder of the accident. Fish’s soft and gorgeous illustrations are well-suited for the tone of the story. The watercolors that signify Neverland magic bleed from the objects they color, as if to show that this magic cannot be contained. The presence of color increases as the story progresses, with the last section drawn almost entirely in color.
The Wendy Project is about coping with grief, and the need to believe that a happier ending exists somewhere. Wendy’s experiences are treated respectfully and with validity, never brushed off as mere delusions. She processes her reality in a way that makes sense to her, and that process becomes a part of The Wendy Project. The story flows very naturally, creating a somewhat dreamy, somewhat distant perception of the world. The story can be read several ways based on perceptions, reminding us that falling and flying are remarkably similar.
In regards to content warnings, there is a brief scene with underage drinking, but the focus of the story is dealing with grief and death. This may make The Wendy Project appropriate for younger readers who are dealing with difficult circumstances.
The Wendy Project
by Melissa Jane Osborne
Art by Veronica Fish
Super Genius, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: Young Adult