Book Review – Lost Boy by Christina Henry

It’s an established fact that I’m a sucker for retellings and re-imaginings of fairy tales and other children’s stories. Peter Pan is among my favorites to see in new ways (which means I really need to get through Barrie’s Peter Pan at some point). There have been quite a few dark interpretations of the Peter character—among my favorite is Brom’s The Child Thief—but many of the re-imaginings I’ve read don’t pay a lot of attention to the character of Captain Hook and how and why the antagonism between he and Peter exists. Christina Henry’s new release Lost Boy is all about the lost boy who became Captain Hook.

There had to be a first and in Henry’s novel, the first boy Peter brought to the island as a playmate was Jamie. It’s been several hundred years since that day and Jamie’s memories of it are fuzzy but he’s one of the few boys on the island that’s lasted. But two of the latest boys Peter brought trigger major changes among the group of lost boys. Charlie is much younger than the others and Jamie feels a desperate need to protect him from the harsh realities of Peter’s sometimes-deadly games. Nip, meanwhile, means to supplant Jamie as Peter’s right hand and favorite. As jealousies grow and become increasingly violent, the bonds between Jamie and Peter slip. Jamie sees more of the truth about Peter and he begins to grow up, the magic of the island keeping the boys’ bodies as young as their hearts and spirits.

Lost Boy is a book about how one boy grows up and at the heart of this novel is its narrator—Jamie. It is the psychological exploration of his character that makes this novel so compelling. At the time the reader meets Jamie, he’s already been on the island for over a century and has seen many boys come to the island only to die horrible deaths in Peter’s games. It is Jamie who takes responsibility for the boys’ welfare and for burying them when they die but for a long time that alone wasn’t enough to cause Jamie to grow up (not significantly, at least). The narrative is presented in Jamie’s first person perspective but it’s also his narration from after everything has happened so there are periodic insights that hint at what’s to come (though a large part of that is obvious simply from the use of that structure).

Empathy and the selfless side of love end up playing a huge role in Jamie’s growing up and the novel as a whole, making the story both compelling and tragic as events unfold. From a child psychology perspective, I find Henry’s tying these to the island’s magic and growing up absolutely fascinating and brilliant. They contrast wonderfully with what the island and Peter represent in the promise of not eternal youth.

Henry takes a few liberties with the history and nature of the island—which I think is part of why it’s never referred to as Neverland—adding creatures I don’t recall and altering elements of the geography slightly (a Skull Rock that isn’t a cave, for instance). But her versions of how and why certain elements of Neverland are the way they are at the start of Barrie’s story work well (such as how Tink became the last fairy).

Lost Boy is easily a new favorite in the re-imagined children’s stories category for me. It’s not quite as dark as The Child Thief but carries a lot of compelling thematic weight.

Lost Boy was released just this week on July 4, 2017 and is available for purchase.

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