George Darling clanged the decanter again and poured what was left in it into his glass. "I could have had any woman I wanted," he muttered to himself. "And I chose a fairy-tale princess who can't grow up." (p. 192)
Wendy lives in London with her father and mother, Mr and Mrs Darling, her younger brothers John and Michael, and the family's beloved dog Nana (who may be more than she appears). Wendy's life may seem privileged, but she's miserable: Nanny Holborn's regime is cruel and abusive, Wendy's playmate Letitia Cunningham is mean-tempered and manipulative, and Wendy sees her father kissing Lady Cunningham.
Wendy doesn't understand adults, and doesn't want to, but she finds herself drawn into the deceptions and white lies of the grown-ups around her. There's some respite when the three children are sent -- without Nanny Holborn and her cod liver oil! -- to stay with their aunt and uncle in the countryside. But Wendy discovers a secret about her friend Thomas (an autistic boy who loves to paint) that makes her question everything she thinks she knows.
Though based on the characters, and to some extent the plot, of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Wendy is set firmly in the real world. There's no Neverland, no Tinkerbell, and though Thomas will 'never grow up' this is not by his own choice. If there's a magical element, it's Nana, who occasionally remarks upon the behaviour of the humans around her. But nobody listens to Nana.
Wendy deals with the idea of 'growing up' in a number of ways. Esther Cunningham, elder half-sister of the repulsive Letitia, is a suffragette; she also realises that she has to leave her father's house, not only for her own sake but to help her father let go of the memory of his dead wife. George Darling, with his shiny motor car and ill-advised flirtation, seems to be having what we might now call a mid-life crisis. And Wendy learns that adults are peculiar and incomprehensible beasts, and that you can hate someone and love them at the same time.
I find I don't have much to say about this novel. I didn't really engage with it: there was nothing especially wrong, but also nothing especially right.