Title: Lost in the Never Woods
Author: Aiden Thomas
Pub Date: March 23, 2021
ARC was provided from publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas is a dark Peter Pan retelling. Five years ago, Wendy and her brother disappeared in the woods and only Wendy came back. She has no recollection of what happened to her or her brothers, but she keeps dreaming about a strange boy. When kids start to go missing in her town, Wendy must found out what happened five years ago.
This is going to be a rant review. I had hopes, not exactly highs, because YA mysteries and I don’t get along, but I hoped still to enjoy. If you would prefer to read the book, instead of my rant… Well, go ahead. I would not exactly stop you, but I can’t in good conscience tell you that I recommend this book. Anyway, let’s get to my problems with Aiden Thomas’s actual debut.
Aiden has talked before about how this was the first book they wrote and sold, and it shows. The writing was not great. And this is coming from someone who often enough speeds through books, not caring about repetition or clunky dialogue. But it was so noticeable in here that it kept pulling me out of the story. It felt very unpolished, it didn’t flow nicely and there were so many info dumps and inconsistencies in the plot.
One thing I adored from Cemetery Boys is how well Aiden managed to make their characters sound. They were sarcastic and funny, their voices felt honest and fully-dimensional. I’m sad to say that didn’t happen with Wendy and Peter. Maybe because I didn’t like the writing, but I found the dialogue incredibly stagnant and flat. Or maybe it wasn’t good dialogue, I don’t know.
The characters are so underdeveloped. It was incredibly frustrating when so much of the book is based on Wendy’s relationship with Peter, her friend, her parents and her brothers. We really don’t get to know anyone, spending more time with Peter because of love interest, but nothing gave me the impression these characters have depth. It was very underwhelming and deeply disappointing after how much we all enjoyed Yadriel and Julian’s love story. Peter and Wendy have nothing going on.
Who’s Wendy as a character? I would have a hard time describing her to you, to be honest, she was easily forgettable. Cemetery Boys had so much heart to the story and it was impossible for me not to feel sympathy for Yadriel. But in Lost in the Never Woods, I felt at distance from Wendy and her history, I never reached that gap that made me cared for her. I was frustrated by her choices and frustrated by the circumstances of the story. Her relationships are so weak and her growth is not really there. I don’t understand why would Aiden placed so much value in Wendy’s connection with the other characters when we didn’t really see that in the story. Her parents are absent figures that suddenly Wendy wants to reconnect with. Her friendship with Jordan is not as strong as it seems, but it’s also never addressed fully. I love complicated friendships that get to grow stronger, but Wendy barely talks with Jordan about anything else except boys. Her character was a reminder that Wendy was into boys and nursing.
The romance was… the romance was not great. Peter was very underdeveloped and he also has zero character growth. Aiden has said this is a second chance romance but it just didn’t work. We never quite see them falling for each other, or even, getting to know each other after five years. Everything happened quite fast but not in a sweet or charming way like in Cemetery Boys. Or maybe because I didn’t like Peter, I couldn’t care less about this romance. I was also frustrated by how they never addressed the problems in their relationship (like the lying) and then move on quite quickly. It felt so stagnant, the stakes so low and with zero chemistry.
I kept questioning myself what was the point of this book? To be a character-driven story, it lacked character and to be a plot-driven story, well, it lacked plot.
Wendy is trying to figure out what happened to her in the woods and find her brothers while dealing with absent parents and some very annoying cops. Kids are disappearing in the town and then a weird boy, a boy that looks eerily similar to Wendy’s dreams, shows up.
The plot was predictable, nothing that challenged me, or took my breath away. I’m not saying this because Peter Pan retelling and we sort of can guess what’s going on, but because I didn’t find Aiden’s take of the classic as innovative or charming as I was hoping. Interesting? Yes, it had so much potential, and then, it kind of went nowhere. As I said, YA mysteries and I don’t usually get along very well. I find them pretty predictable, boring and frustrating. And yes, that was the case here, too. I knew what happened early on and I was right. That’s fine, that’s an aspect that didn’t work for me, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I do think after all that built up about what happened in the woods, it wasn’t worth it and it didn’t pay off at all. Everything came down in a very expectable and disappointing ending that kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. It felt so anti-climactic? It was wrapped in such a nice and perfectly compactable way that felt wrong.
I understand how Aiden’s trying to deal with grief, mental health and trauma in this story but I don’t think they were quite successful. Maybe it was how underwhelming the characters’ relationships felt for me, or my problems with the plot, but I don’t think these themes were discussed in a thoughtful or smart way at all. Very hand-wavy world-building led to barely any direct mention of Wendy’s mental health. And even at the end, after the anti-climatic revelations, the book never truly mentions things by name. But to be quite honest, I can’t say Aiden said anything insightful about mental health. The ending was so intense and abrupt that it almost felt like cheating. I don’t know, maybe this is on me and my expectations, waiting for a clean-cut resolution that was never going to happen because I just don’t understand the point of this story.
I know, I’m sad to say that Lost in the Never Woods failed for me in every single aspect. Was it unfair of me to compare it to Cemetery Boys? Maybe, it also doesn’t stand on its own.