Lost Boy, Found Boy is a queer sci-fi retelling of Peter Pan. Peter lives with other boys in a home, sleeping in oxygen-preserving pods at night that are programmed to randomly choose the boys to join the war. In the pod next to Peter’s sleeps his enbyfriend, Mir, whose desire to fly has led them to ask to be chosen as a pilot. Heartbroken by the news that Mir will be leaving, possibly to their death, technologically-clever Peter enters the refuge he created for himself and Mir. Peter starts programming to create a VR world, which he calls Neverland, in the hope that he can save Mir from the war.
Lost Boy, Found Boy is Polish’s debut novella and at around 100 pages long, it is a quick read. Though for me the novella was hit and miss, I do think the fact that it reaches out to young adult readers in the queer community who are not represented in the majority of mainstream literature is highly important. Peter is trans, though this is not a fact that is made immediately clear and perhaps quite rightly so. Mir is a non-binary character, correctly referred to by Polish with “they/their” pronouns, although for readers not used to this, it does require some thought.
Polish conveys the relationship between Mir and Peter with intense emotion and I think that despite the fact that the characters are only sixteen years old, the significance of their relationship does not feel diminished. Peter’s love for Mir drives all his actions, even though it makes him unlikable at times because of his mistreatment of Gwen, Tink, and the “lost boys.” Peter’s desperation to have Mir in Neverland is palpable, but sadly, we see him rebuff the friendship of others and ignore their needs and wants. Though we empathize with Peter and the period of grief he appears to be in, I think his inability to bond with the group had an effect on me as a reader and it made me feel detached from them.
I usually love retellings of any story and I was interested in reading Lost Boy, Found Boy because I know Peter Pan so well and I was hopeful about Polish’s new version. However, I feel that Polish had an opportunity to imaginatively world-build here, but, in my opinion, failed. Peter and Mir’s ‘real world’ is described to a point and the reader can clearly see the futuristic elements, like the pods, reliance on technology, the speedbikes, and the speeders, but the actual details of the setting are vague.
On the other hand, Neverland could have been anywhere Peter desired. Polish’s initial descriptions of the VR world gratify Peter’s senses and the reader’s: the sand, wind, and sea. These are only things that he can identify because Peter has seen them in a museum. I also loved Polish’s visual description of the butterflies Peter sees:
A kaleidoscope of a creature — more massive than at least four Peter and Mirs combined — soaring lazily out from the treeline. Dragon, the word occured to Peter from somewhere in the back of his mind, calling up his mythology studies with Mir.
The dragon was gleaming with colors he’d never seen: nothing in the Commons or nearby grounds glowed like that. The dragon’s wing buds were pure golden, massive delicate wings like little suns glittering over the water far out where it was calm; the underbelly was such a brilliant red that the ancient curseword radioactive flooded his mind.
Though this description captures some of the magic of the original Neverland, I really felt that this is as far as Polish goes. There are a few mentions of mermaids, but it is the characters, not the reader, who witness these. I understand that Polish has been limited because of the length of Lost Boy, Found Boy, but my imagination wanted to be fed more.
The identities of Peter and Mir are clear, but Lost Boy, Found Boy also left me feeling ignorant about some issues. I thought the word “enbyfriend” was a typo when I read it first, but when it was repeated, I had to Google the meaning.
My rating of Lost Boy, Found Boy is not based upon the fact that this is a novella, as I knew the length of the story before I began reading, but I was left with questions that I wish Polish had been able to answer by expanding Lost Boy, Found Boy a little. For example, we know that the boys are being chosen to fight in a war, but who is the war with? And why did Tink choose the particular group of ‘lost boys’ that arrive in Neverland?
As a retelling, Lost Boy, Found Boy has some interesting elements like the interface who chimes and becomes known as Tinkerbell and the cyborg boy with a hook as a hand. The futuristic aspects add a fresh twist to the story and the relationship between Peter and Mir is touching, but I would be reluctant to recommend it because of what I felt were the story’s shortcomings.