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Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group/Swoon Reads for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: March 23rd, 2021

384 Pages

Synopsis: When children go missing, people want answers. When children go missing in the small coastal town is Astoria, people look to Wendy for answers.

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 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. (Goodreads)

For someone who didn’t particularly care for the original Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie, I’ve read my fair share of retellings, some good, others not so much. Lost In the Never Woods gives the oft-told fantasy an entirely imaginative albeit extremely dark spin, that completely captured my attention from beginning to end. As always, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I have to warn you that there are themes here that some readers may find difficult, including: PTSD, anxiety, death of children, and gun violence.

This is one of the very few times I actually liked the character of Peter Pan. He has that cavalier nonchalance at times, that I’ve found in previous stories, but I wasn’t annoyed by it like I usually am, because underneath that facade is a much deeper and complex personality. Indeed, this is a Peter who really does take his responsibilities to both Neverland and the Lost Children, seriously. And, once he realizes what has put everything in danger, he’s willing to sacrifice himself. I also loved Wendy, who’s written much differently here then how she’s been depicted in other retellings. While she struggles with memory loss and PTSD from her ordeal, she’s a fierce fighter, yet also retains that maternal side the classic Wendy displayed. When Peter drops back into Wendy’s life, he appears to be a few years younger than Wendy, which gave me a moment’s pause, as their relationship obviously is heading for romance. Thankfully, for readers’ sensibilities, the darkness that is behind the children’s disappearance, is also in part, responsible for the draining of Peter’s magic, and results in him aging, so by the time his and Wendy’s relationship reaches the kissing stage, he’s about eighteen
-years-old as she is. Their relationship is the driving force behind everything that happens, so it was important that the author made Peter and Wendy believable and relatable, and I’m happy to say Aiden Thomas delivered in spades. As for the story itself, it’s different than any other retelling I’ve read. You don’t see much of Neverland, except through Wendy’s memories. There’s no Tinkerbell, and no Captain Hook. In fact, the villain is someone who innocuously appears in the original classic, but here, takes on epic evil proportions. Thomas also skillfully blends in other original characters and elements from the original, such as the Darling’s Saint Bernard Nana, and Wendy’s talent with sewing. If you’re familiar with Peter Pan, you won’t find it surprising that this doesn’t have a perfect happily-ever-after, yet the bittersweet finale is really the only way the story could end, and leaves the characters as well as the reader with a satisfying sense of peace and closure.

I absolutely loved Thomas’s debut, Cemetery Boys so Lost In the Never Woods has been one of my most anticipated reads of 2021, and I was not disappointed. I will even go so far as to predict  this will most likely be one of my favorite reads of this year. I highly and enthusiastically recommend this for older teens and adults who love imaginative fantasy retellings!