Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas gives a completely fresh take on the well-known (some might say overdone) Peter Pan story. This novel takes characters that we all love and gives them a dark twist, while still managing to deliver a warm, heartfelt story.
Five years ago, Wendy Darling and her younger brothers disappeared in the woods of Oregon. Six months later, Wendy was found alone, remembering nothing. Now, on the verge of her 18th birthday, she’s ready to burst out of this small town that is overcrowded with memories. Something’s not right, however. More children the area have started to go missing, and people look to Wendy for answers. She’s noticed she’s different as well. Every time her mind wanders off, she finds herself drawing two things: a boy and a tree. She can’t remember either.
While driving home from her volunteering shift one day, Wendy almost runs over a boy lying in the middle of the road. Paramedics take him to the hospital, but he mysteriously vanishes. When he pops up again, he tells Wendy he is Peter Pan, the magical boy she thought existed only in her stories. At first, she struggles to believe him because it sounds completely crazy. Peter Pan doesn’t exist… right?
As she continues to remember more bits and pieces of her past, she finds herself forced to believe Peter. Besides, he says he needs her help to rescue her brothers, and she would do anything to get them back.
Peter tells Wendy that five years ago, after she came to Neverland, he lost his shadow. Since then, his shadow, a frightening creature that feeds off fear, has grown more and more powerful, stealing children to make him stronger. As the shadow strengthens, Peter becomes weaker. He is aging at an alarming rate and he can no longer fly. His only hope is Wendy finding the shadow and sewing it back to him.
While reading, I felt completely immersed in the book’s eerie aesthetic. Everything in this story is painted in different shades of gray, giving the world a heavy feeling of gloom. Even Wendy’s wardrobe, gray eyes, and dirty blonde hair help us imagine how flat the real world is. The shadow is a terrifying villain, made of oily blackness and sharp angles. Every scene that he appears in sent chills down my spine. In contrast, Peter was all light and pixie dust.
I was worried how Peter Pan would be portrayed in a YA contemporary story. I am a huge Peter Pan fan, but not the biggest fan of Peter himself. In most adaptations I’ve seen, Peter is either so upbeat and prideful that it’s irritating, or he is a sinister villain. However, Thomas gives us a teenage boy who basically radiates joy, yet still has a human range of emotions. As the story progresses, we see what a heavy burden being “Peter Pan” is—the responsibility to care for so many children, and the toll it takes.
The subtle, sensitive way the novel dealt with PTSD and how trauma affects a family was my other favorite part of the novel. Wendy shows many nervous ticks and wrestles with flashes of memory from her lost past, memories that show her brothers, who she still clearly misses deeply. She also feels horribly guilty, not just about losing her brothers to the shadow but the other missing children as well. This loss has also clearly broken Wendy’s family. Her mother is a shadow of the vibrant woman she used to be, and her father drinks constantly and only communicates with Wendy by yelling. I really disliked the parents, personally, because I felt like they blamed Wendy instead of being grateful she came home, which is unfair. As characters, though, I found them interesting and well written.
The main complaint readers may have is the pace. For most of the novel, we follow Wendy and Peter as they bond and try (unsuccessfully) to find the shadow. We also see Wendy struggle with her memories of her brothers, and we get a lot of backstory. There isn’t much action and drama until the end. For a reader who doesn’t mind slow paced books, I enjoyed it. Even though there wasn’t a lot of action, the suspense kept me on the edge of my seat.
If you love dark retellings, magical realism, Peter Pan, and authentic stories about trauma, Lost in the Never Woods is highly recommended.
Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas releases on March 23, 2021.