It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road, and gets pulled into the mystery haunting the town.
Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, claims that if they don’t do something, the missing children will meet the same fate as her brothers. In order to find them and rescue the missing kids, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.
- Title: Lost in the Never Woods
- Author: Aiden Thomas
- Publication Date: March 23, 2021
- Publisher: Swoon Reads
- Source: Netgalley
- Genre: Fantasy. Retelling, YA
- Age Range: YA
- Trigger warnings: Missing children, car accident, hospitalization, self-destructive behavior, grief, mention of a panic attack (ch 3), anxiety, memory loss, mention of death of a family friend, hunting/shooting, trauma, sibling death, alcoholism, PTSD, allusions to night terrors and insomnia
- Rating: ★★★★★
It’s no secret that I love retellings. There’s something so special about taking something that is so beloved and completely reinventing it. I was incredibly lucky to read an ARC of Lost in the Never Woods by Aidedn Thomas, which is a Peter Pan retelling, and am still reeling in how absolutely brilliant it is. Lost in the Never Woods is a retelling that stands on its own, but has some treats for anyone who is familiar with the original – I noticed a couple of little easter eggs that reminded me of either the original Peter Pan or Finding Neverland.
Thomas is a genius, and has managed to lift up the original Peter Pan and make it their own. From the dedication of Lost in the Never Woods — “Dedicated to every heavy heart that had to grow up too fast” — I already knew this book would have a special place in my heart. It’s been a long time since I last reread Peter Pan (or watched the movie, or any other adaptation of it that isn’t the Finding Neverland musical), but one of the things Peter Pan is most known for is not wanting to grow up. So for Thomas to use Peter Pan as a framework for exploring childhood trauma and more importantly, healing from that trauma, was simply so clever.
With their vivid imagery and descriptive words, Aiden Thomas has easily managed to transport us into Astoria, Oregon, and its haunted woods. More than once, I felt like I was in the story with Wendy Darling myself, trying to solve the mystery of what happened to her brothers, the other missing children, and Peter Pan. I’ve never so badly wanted to get in my car and drive the four hours to Astoria — In fact, driving down to Astoria is now on my list of places to go to post-pandemic. By the end of Lost in the Never Woods, I actually found myself in tears.
If you follow Aiden on Twitter, you might’ve seen this thread introducing our favorite trio – Wendy Darling, Peter, and The Shadow. Wendy, our main character, has gone through so much and I just want to wrap her in a warm blanket and tell her everything’s going to be okay. We’ve got Peter, who is truly a puppy dog personified — totally chaotic, absolutely adorable, and someone who is really just trying his best. In most Peter Pan retellings, Wendy is the one that’s curious and wonderstruck by Peter – after all, he’s magical and comforting and something safe, whereas it felt like both parties were equally fascinated by the other. After what happened five years ago, Wendy has spent so much time blending into the background; stepping into the caregiver role at home, diminishing her feelings, just holding on until she’s able to leave Astoria for college. Through Peter, Wendy’s given a second chance at redemption – the possibility to remember what she’s forgotten, an opportunity to find the missing children, and a way for her family to finally heal. Peter and Wendy’s dynamic was truly just the hurt/comfort trope, and I loved how they helped the other person heal. Both Peter and Wendy often have this sense of responsibility to take care of others; Peter, with the “Lost Boys”, and Wendy, with her family.
“If you’re busy taking care of everyone else, who takes care of you?”
Lost in the Never Woods was a reminder that we can’t pour from an empty cup, that we have to take care of ourselves too, and we’re never as alone as we think we are. It’s a story about growing up and healing from your trauma. One of my favorite things about Lost in the Never Woods was how Wendy’s trauma was handled. It was evident how her past impacted all of her decisions, how it seeped into her personality, and I loved watching her slowly heal from her past. Lost in the Never Woods also contains some of my favorite tropes; from only-one-bed to oblivious pining, and my personal favorite which is REDACTED for the sake of spoilers (but if you know me well, you’ll know what this one is).
I won’t go into too much detail about The Shadow — our antagonist, but I loved reading about them, and their motivations. While I pieced together who was behind all the missing children very early on, I felt like the mystery of Lost in the Never Woods was more of a how and a why. I’m not the most observant reader — there are several (okay, many) instances where I won’t figure out plot twists in books ahead of time, but then realize in hindsight that it made sense all along. In Lost in the Never Woods, however, I would come up with my own theories, and have them be confirmed shortly after – which is something I really appreciated. Partially because it made me feel smart for once, but more importantly because it was really good foreshadowing! There’s a lot of satisfaction in being able to piece things together before the protagonist, and it really shows how well thought out every detail and every clue was.
Overall, I absolutely loved Lost in the Never Woods. If you’re a fan of character-driven stories, darker retellings, or stories about healing from trauma, I can’t recommend Lost in the Never Woods enough! A major thank you to Swoon Reads and Netgalley for providing me with this eARC.
Aiden Thomas is a New York Times Bestselling Author with an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. As a queer, trans Latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, useless trivia, Jenga, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.