Lost in the Never Woods
Lost in the Never Woods
by Aiden Thomas
Published 23 March 2021
Rating: 4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Genre: YA Fantasy, Peter Pan Retelling
I requested an eARC for this book on Edelweiss+ when it was first announced, even before I read Cemetery Boys, and was so disappointed to be declined. When it went up on NetGalley I rushed to request it, but it was region locked and not available to Canadians like myself. I thought I’d have to wait until publication day to read this thing! Then a tour signup email showed up in my inbox from XPresso with this title, and I’m not above admitting I begged for a spot on the tour. Any day, I’ll make it work! Thank you to everyone involved in picking me for the tour! Despite all this, I vow that my thoughts are my own and my review is honest.
Lost in the Never Woods is a Peter Pan retelling like none I’ve ever read before. This is Wendy’s story after returning from Neverland… without her younger brothers and a good chunk of her memory surrounding what happened the day they went to Neverland. It’s been 5 years since Wendy returned and suddenly Peter is back without his shadow and kids are going missing. Can Wendy help Peter get his shadow back? Can they find the missing kids before it’s too late? What sort of demons need to be faced before certain mysteries can be solved?
People are going to want to compare this book to Cemetery Boys, and I would caution you not to. This is much lighter on magic and doesn’t have any LGBTQIA+ issues to tackle. It’s an “after Neverland” timeline Peter Pan retelling that explores grief and survivor’s guilt. While there is a lot of Aiden in this book and I don’t want to discredit the wonderfully unique spin on the story, I do want to be very clear that this is one of those YA Fantasy stories that could have been written by any author. That doesn’t make it bad or unimaginative, it really is a good book, it just means that, unlike Cemetery Boys where a trans author explored a trans teen’s story, this book doesn’t have that same “only this author could possibly tell this story” feel.
Lost in the Never Woods is an interesting exploration of what grief does to a young person who returns to their life after an abduction type event, particularly one where a sibling or two remain missing. Wendy has blanked it all out and doesn’t remember. It’s been 5 years and she’s telling Peter Pan stories to kids in the children’s ward. She 100% believes that these are just bedtime stories her mother used to tell her. She doesn’t remember what happened 5 years ago when she and her brothers disappeared and only she returned, but she hasn’t slept in their former shared bedroom since her first night back, and everyone is waiting for the day that they too return. Her mother talks to her brothers in her sleep and is usually otherwise a husk of her former self while awake. Her father is equal parts absent and passive-aggressively abusive, but it’s not clear whether or not this is new since the events of 5 years ago. Then Wendy almost hits a boy in the street and he claims to be Peter Pan. Memories start coming back aided by his prompting. Then kids start to go missing again and everyone is hoping that if they can solve these new disappearances then maybe they’ll figure out what happened to Wendy’s brothers and recover them.
The final 20-25% of this book is absolutely amazing, 5-star worthy material that deals with the deep, dark truths and difficult emotions and memories Wendy has to work through. There’s a bit of a twist reveal (which plays off one popular metaphor theory people have written essays on for decades) that I enjoyed because it’s not a way I’ve ever seen the Peter Pan story and character portrayed in full-length media format, and I’m all about grittier fairytales.
The earlier majority of the book, however, was definitely not 5 stars. I wish it were because I want to be able to rate everything Aiden Thomas writes 5 stars, but I strive to review honestly and I can’t honestly give the rest of the book a full 5. There’s a lot of slow-moving plot development where Wendy and Peter have scattered conversations and Wendy has random encounters with the shadow but in between all of this she just goes about her normal life… and it does nothing for the plot. There’s an entire scene dedicated to her father’s study that she never enters but she’s in it this time because suddenly her mom wants her to go there while cleaning (really?) and it’s all so she can find a key. She couldn’t find the key while deep cleaning the kitchen? Her father couldn’t accidentally drop it? We have to suspend our disbelief that a teenager really hasn’t ever set foot in this unlocked room in her house but suddenly her mother’s going to ask her to get the garbage bin in there to empty it? And why aren’t we having major search parties for all these missing kids? Adults might not notice Peter because of his nature, but kids do, and kids talk. Nobody’s concerned about the boy from stories who’s suddenly real according to their kids now that children are disappearing?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the bulk of this book before the climax is full of little plot holes and unnecessary scenes that don’t make it a bad book by any means but make it obvious that this was actually Aiden’s first manuscript. I’m glad Cemetery Boys sold first and Aiden got to debut with that banger, because this book screams debut author, and while it’s cute and solid for what it is, this would not have made Aiden’s name known and this would not leave me watching for Aiden’s new material in the ARC listings.
If you love Aiden, by all means read this and support this amazingly deserving author and adorable human being, but go into it with the knowledge that this is not another Cemetery Boys. It’s a 3.5-4 star Peter Pan retelling with a twist ending that’s absolutely worth waiting for. If you love Peter Pan retellings or fairytale retellings in general, this is a great one! If you just love YA Fantasy, this is also a great choice.
Jenna’s official XPresso Book Tours stop was March 22nd and contains additional information about the book and author as well as purchase links. Check that out here. Jenna also has a (5 star) reference of Aiden Thomas’ debut novel Cemetery Boys.