Aiden Thomas has been all over my feed following the success of their novel Cemetery Boys. And while I’ve been meaning to pick up that book, I decided to start with Thomas’s newest story, Lost in the Never Woods, which came out in 2021. I had high expectations for this one, primarily because I’ve only heard glowing reviews of Cemetery Boys. While there are elements in Never Woods that I enjoyed, there were things that really kept me from falling in love with this story.
Wendy Darling is turning 18 and all she wants to do is finish her volunteer shift at the hospital and go home. While trying to leave, she discovers a group of nurses and cops huddling at the front desk. Even though she is filled with dread, Wendy begs to hear what’s going on and learns that another child has gone missing in Astoria. This is not easy for Wendy to digest. You see, Wendy and her two brothers, John and Michael, disappeared in the woods five years ago. But only Wendy returned, with her brother’s blood under her nails and no memory of what happened. Wendy has been in survival mode, and her past is slowly creeping back up. As kids continue to mysteriously disappear, Wendy comes face to face with Peter Pan, a boy she thought only existed in stories. Peter needs Wendy’s help to capture his shadow before he loses all his magic in the real world. So the pair decides to team up, find Wendy’s brothers, save the kids, and confront the secrets about Wendy’s mysterious past.
Before I jump in and share why this story wasn’t for me, I have to say how much I appreciated the portrayal of grief and trauma, especially in a story that skews toward a younger reader. Wendy’s family is devastated after Michael and John go missing. We see Wendy’s father isolate himself and give into drinking while her mother withdraws from parental duties and has energy only for her shifts at the hospital. Wendy sadly reminds them of what they’re missing, and she largely has to take care of not only herself but both her parents all while dealing with her grief, guilt, and trauma. I would have appreciated seeing those real, human emotions and reactions in the stories I was reading in my formative years to help me process my stuff. So major shout out to Thomas for exploring some great themes.
To me, all the great fantasies effectively produce a suspension of disbelief. The stories should pull you into the world and keep you there, so I always expect that the trivial, real-world elements of life shouldn’t dramatically affect the story. But these little moments happened frequently in Never Woods, and it totally messed with my head. For instance, we’re made to believe that the stakes are high – kids are missing and no one but Wendy and Peter has an idea of what is happening. They’re the ONLY people who can save the day, but this larger-than-life task never felt important because Wendy would legit stop searching because she self-imposed a curfew on herself to get home before her parents. My adult brain was like, “You have a chance to find your missing brothers, the thing that haunts your every waking moment, and you’re calling it a night?” It may be my age showing here, but I couldn’t get past these instances. My suspension of disbelief was shattered and so was the urgency to solve the problem.
The pacing of the story is very slow. We swirl around in Wendy’s head a lot, hearing her thoughts but not actually seeing action for a good chunk of the book. Now, there was a twist at the end that is good, like so good. When that moment was revealed I couldn’t help but think that this was the story I had been waiting for. There were glimmers of greatness in Never Woods; the writing was good and the overall story was promising. I think at the end of the day I just wanted…more?
Lost in the Never Woods can easily be a good, maybe even great book for some readers out there. Overall this is going to largely appeal to a younger demographic as the characters are at that coming of age phase right at the cusp of high school graduation. And while those days are more than a decade behind me, I can normally vibe with these stories. But my age must have been in the way because I simply couldn’t buy into curfews when lives were at stake. Maybe I’m old and a total dud. But someone out there, with a great Neverland-esque imagination that Peter Pan thrives on, will enjoy this tale.
Rating: Lost in the Never Woods – 6.0/10