The Child Thief (2009) is a dark reinterpretation of the world of Peter Pan by writer and illustrator Brom. His adult novel offers a chilling alternative to the Disney version of Peter Pan which, according to the author’s note, is more in keeping with the original text of Peter Pan as written by J. M. Barrie.
Brom’s Peter prowls the streets of New York City each night looking for haunted, lost children that he can lure away to a secret place far away. It’s impossible to actually steal a child, the mist won’t allow that, but you can lead a child. That’s what Peter does. In many ways a lost boy himself, Peter finds children who think they have nothing left to lose; victims of violence, abuse and neglect looking for a way out. What these lost children soon learn is that there is always something else to lose.
There have been a lot of comparisons drawn between The Child Thief and Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. I can’t comment on that having not read the latter novel. What I can say is that The Child Thief will make your skin crawl. Like its cover, the novel is peppered with beautiful, grim illustrations of the characters. The writing is no less bleak. Peppered with violence, cursing, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, I can see why other reviews have said this book is not for the faint of heart.
While brilliantly illustrated, the writing often felt less polished. And though certainly innovative, The Child Thief failed to enchant me. The old fairy tales, the original ones by Grimm or Andersen and apparently Barrie, were meant as cautionary tales for young children. Since then the stories have changed into entertainment: light-hearted, sugar-coated stories for boys and girls. I find, without fail, that I prefer the newer version which is probably why I could not fully embrace this novel. However the biggest problem for me is that the world of The Child Thief, possibly unintentionally, seems to be founded on the assumption that all people are amoral, opportunistic, mean and that the world they inhabit runs on violence and brutality–two assumptions I refuse to believe.
Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Wicked by Gregory Maguire