It’s finally time for my first review of a book centering a trans man as the protagonist: Peter Darling by Austin Chant, a trans author of romantic and speculative fiction. It’s a transgender retelling of Peter Pan wherein Peter returns to Neverland after spending ten years away at his home in London, only to find that Neverland and the Lost Boys aren’t all he remembered them to be. Then, throw in a fantastically empathetic rendering of Captain Hook, some enemies-friends-lovers romance, and a nuanced exploration of what it means to be a man. Austin Chant’s Peter Darling confronts toxic masculinity in its examination of Peter’s conflict between boyhood and manhood.
Peter’s conception of boyhood is intimately tied to his obsession with war. When he first returns, he goes straight to Captain Hook for a (very homoerotic) fight scene. Peter revels both in this fight and in the fact that he and Hook could kill one another. It’s an unhealthy, almost feverish obsession. After that, Peter seeks out the Lost Boys to restart the war between the Boys and the Pirates. We, as readers, learn quickly that when Peter was here last, he made war the norm in Neverland. At one point, Peter directly associates his boyhood with war, saying “I’m here to fight. I’m a boy.” (47) Peter consciously equates boyhood with violence, which shouldn’t be too unfamiliar, considering the current social climate revolving around toxic masculinity.
Immediately after Peter delivers that quote, the Fae Queen responds to his statement by asking him, “When do you intend to grow up?” (47) Peter’s growth throughout the novel–instigated in large part by the changes to Neverland and by Captain Hook–lets him break free of that toxic approach to masculinity. The most notable difference in Neverland is the existence of Ernest, a young man who has taken the Lost Boys under his wings after Peter left. Ernest tends more towards pacifism and in many ways represents the “new” Neverland where Peter might not be the hero anymore. The two find themselves in conflict, often because of how things have changed since Peter left. As well, there is a period where Peter and Hook are in the caves beneath Neverland, and our protagonist comes to some semblance of understanding that fighting Hook is not always the answer. (I can’t tell you any more than that without spoiling it but I will say the sexual tension is rather delicious.) The plot of the novel, itself–including the ending–is a progression away from toxic boyhood to healthy manhood.
To be honest, I was worried that I had hyped this book up too much in my head and that, when I finally did read it, I would be disappointed. I was COMPLETELY WRONG about that. I loved Peter Darling, from its Easter Eggs hinting at the original writing to the thoughtful exploration of masculinity to the absolutely palpable sexual tension. I would absolutely recommend this book to my trans followers, as well as to some of the more advanced cisgender readers. There’s a level of nuance relating to gender theory that not every person would necessarily understand if they haven’t started down the road of interrogating their gender. That said, it is a fun adventure of a book, so even if a cis reader doesn’t understand all of the gender details of this book, they’ll have a good time reading it regardless.
Peter Darling by Austin Chant
Publisher: Less Than Three Press (2017)
Paperback: About $18
Number of Pages: 204 pages
Content Warnings: Suicidality, transphobia, gender dysphoria, gore, violence, dissociation, sex, toxic masculinity