I’d seen several great reviews for Aiden Thomas’ sophomore novel Lost in the Never Woods, so I expected to adore it because I adored their first novel, Cemetery Boys. Unfortunately, this book does not come close to matching Cemetery Boys. It’s decent, but not especially inspiring.
What’s it about?
This novel reimagines Peter Pan. Five years ago, Wendy and her two younger brothers disappeared into the woods behind her house. Wendy was missing for months, but Michael and John never returned. Now, children are going missing again and Wendy finds herself repeatedly and unconsciously sketching the face of a boy who only exists in her mother’s fairy tales… or does he? When the boy shows up in the flesh, Wendy must confront the truth if she has any hope of saving the children or finding out what happened to her brothers all those years ago.
What’d I think?
For better or for worse, Lost in the Never Woods is a very different novel than Cemetery Boys. Because most authors tend to hit the same sorts of thematic beats across their work, I assumed that Lost in the Never Woods would focus on complicated family bonds, platonic friendships, and gender roles like Cemetery Boys did before it. I was therefore quite surprised that this newer novel is very straight and primarily romantic. Sure, there are a few scenes between Wendy and her best friend Jordan, and there’s a bit of subplot about Wendy’s now-strained relationship with her father, but the primary relationship of this book is the quasi-romantic connection between Wendy and Peter.
I’m not going to pretend there was never a romantic angle to Wendy and Peter’s relationship in previous versions of the story. It’s there in the original and in nearly every other iteration of the story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Personally, I have always found it the least interesting element of Peter Pan. Same with Wendy. She’s always rubbed me the wrong way; of course some girls do like extreme femininity and homemaking, but it has always struck me as sad that Wendy has to be the responsible, practical mother while the male Darlings and the Lost Boys get to play.
To be fair, the original Peter Pan was never my favorite story. There are adaptations that I like. The musical with its incredible acrobatic flying is a ton of fun. I reread Geraldine McCaughrean’s dark, atmospheric official sequel Peter Pan in Scarlet many times as a kid. The Tinker Bell spinoffs, both the animated movies and Gail Carson Levine’s novels, are fun. And, of course, every iteration of Captain Hook—from the Disney version to Once Upon a Time’s swashbuckling hero to Descendants’ delightfully unhinged Harry Hook—is wonderful. So a Peter Pan retelling can certainly go right, but it has to pick the right elements.
For me personally, Lost in the Never Woods does not pick the right elements. It’s focused entirely on Wendy and Peter. While John and Michael are mentioned often, they are plot devices rather than characters. No other Lost Boys appear, and there isn’t a single pirate anywhere to be found. (How can there be no pirates? I am surely not alone in thinking that the best part of Peter Pan is the pirates). Tinker Bell is likewise MIA. People who like Wendy Darling or whose main fascination with Peter Pan is Peter himself might not mind this, but for my money… it was hugely disappointing to realize that every single thing I like about Neverland has been left by the wayside.