Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith; Heartdrum/HarperCollins, 297 pages ($16.99). Ages 8 to 12.
This brilliant reimagining of the Peter Pan story, from a Native American perspective, comes from Cynthia Leitich Smith, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and author-curator of Heartdrum, a Native-focused imprint at HarperCollins Children's Books.
The sisters of the title are 12-year-old stepsisters, anxious Lily and risk-taking Wendy. They have lived in Tulsa, Okla., since Lily's divorced mother, a Creek citizen, married Wendy's widowed father, a British banker. Lily has an older brother John; the girls share a little brother, 4-year-old Michael. Now the marriage is in trouble, and the once inseparable stepsisters are on the outs, too. Wendy's father has taken a job on Wall Street and the family is facing separation for the summer, as he and Wendy are moving to New York City. On the very eve of the move, Peter Pan and his fairy companion, Belle, whisk Wendy and Michael off to Neverland, with Lily and Peter's Shadow in pursuit.
Leitich Smith seamlessly blends her original take on the dynamics between the Lost, the pirates, the Natives and Fairies with the familiar elements of "Peter Pan." All is not well on Neverland, which is hidden by a veil from the outside world and where time passes differently.
This Peter Pan is a disturbing character. Since Belle stole him from his pram more than a century ago, he has morphed into a "braggart, bullying, barbaric," a "vile, selfish shell of a boy," after prolonged exposure to fairy dust.
He is a boy separated from his shadow, killing what he does not understand. Peter happily drops anyone who turns 13 into the jaws of the giant crocodile; he blithely kills the wild beasts of Neverland, the Neverbirds, a mother tiger, the last lion. (In one gruesome scene he plops the severed tiger head on the table in the Home Under Ground.) He reignites his war with the "Injuns," inspired by his reading of "the Wild and Woolly West Storybook."
Peter has brought Wendy to Neverland for his love of Story; the question is, can this Peter write himself a new story?
The colorful backdrop of Neverland is skillfully done, the violet sand of the beach, the maze of underground tunnels, Belle's Fairy quarters with her Tiddlywink chandelier, the Merfolk with their distrust of humans. There is plenty of swashbuckling action as the girls enlist the Lost and the Natives to outwit Peter Pan and fight to return home.
The Octopus Escapes by Maile Meloy; illustrated by Felicita Sala; G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers ($17.99)
An octopus is caught by a diver and taken to live in an aquarium but eventually manages to escape in this charming picture book with its appreciation for the natural world and its message of the importance of home.
Meloy, author of the fabulous "Apothecary" trilogy for middle-grader readers, captures the everyday joys of the octopus life: "Sometimes waves came rolling in. Little shivery ones, or big tumbling ones" and its distress at being confined ("every day was the same in the glass house.") despite the enrichment activities provided. Sala's illustrations are lovely, particularly a nightscape of a skyline with Ferris wheel and the octopus preparing to drop off the pier into the ocean.
Tokyo Ever After: Book 1 by Emiko Jean; Flatiron Books 336 pages ($18.99) Ages 12 to 18.
A Japanese American high school student in California discovers her father is the Crown Prince of Japan in this entertaining romance whose backdrop of culture clash makes it more interesting than Meg Cabot's "Princess Diaries" series with the similar setup but fake setting in a made-up European country.
As a Japanese American, Izumi "Izzy" Tanaka has never felt as though she fits in in Mount Shasta, her California hometown "a town strung together with tie-dyes and confederate flags." Her mother has never told her who her father is, just that she was the product of a one-night stand with a classmate at Harvard. After a little detective work, Izumi discovers that her father is the crown prince.
The tabloids in Japan dub Imperial Highness Princess Izumi "the Lost Butterfly" when her father flies her to Japan for a visit and she finds herself under intense scrutiny for her sloppy attire, her lack of attention to decorum and her inability to speak or read Japanese.
Emiko Jean made her debut as a YA author with "We'll Never Be Apart," a psychological thriller.