Fiction is an integral part of reality. It’s how human beings take the circumstances of their lives and their world and frame it all into some meaning. Naturally, the whole thing started eons ago with primitive humans using fiction to explain natural phenomenon, and then at a certain point this evolved into an effort to explain why we are here at all, a fiction we call religion. After the enlightenment, though, stories became less grandiose. They could tackle the big issues for sure, but there also became room enough for the little things, the circumstances of an individual life that might need some sorting to make sense of it. And that’s pretty much where popular culture has stayed, obsessively capturing little matters at a rate of mass production.
With The Wendy Project, writer Melissa Jane Osborne and artist Veronica Fish capture just how important fiction is on a personal level, including the process of taking established fiction in order to personalize it to your own emotional needs. After a devastating car accident with her family, teenager Wendy Davies has to rectify the physical loss and emotional trauma that resulted with the reality that she has lost her brother.
Initially, in a kind of denial, Wendy transposes her obsession with Peter Pan onto her grief and fashions a personal mythology built around the idea that her brother has not died but been plucked away to Never Never Land. Fueling the intensity of this belief is the fact that she witnessed the event during the accident and it was so vivid that she can’t accept it as anything other reality. And then there is the possible corroboration of her surviving brother.
In the end, Wendy knows exactly what she needs to do to come to terms with reality — and doing so may not be exactly what we would consider coming to terms. More precisely she needs to explore her explanation on its own terms and the unfolding concept that what she might be telling herself to make her feel better is possibly worse than reality. There may be no happy answer when it comes to the loss of her brother.
By leaving the solution vague enough that the Peter Pan aspect of the story is treated with respect, the death of her brother is not lessened in emotional impact but made much more complicated instead. And so is the idea that the fictions we embrace to help us get through life are not necessarily utilized to comfort so much as to give context, reframe, give meaning, or just provide an alternate solution, so we don’t have to settle on one set of circumstances, there are always other possibilities. Even if these other possibilities are gloomy of their own accord, it’s the existence of any other possibility at all that provides the comfort.
Osborne does a great job at giving the teens realistic voices and presenting the already present alienation within a parent/child relationship that can be exacerbated by tragedy. Fish’s work at visualizing two different psychological worlds, one grounded in reality and the other flying off into the fantastical, but also foreboding, is wonderful, providing visual depictions of the difference between the two, but also what binds them into one emotional life.
Journalist and children’s book writer living in North Adams, Massachusetts. Author of ‘A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide To Anarchy,’ ‘Happy Punks 1-2-3,’ ‘Frankie Liked To Sing,’ and others. My latest children’s books are ‘Gorilla Gardener: How To Help Nature Take Over The World’ and ‘We Say NO: A Child’s Guide To Resistance.’