There are books that provide a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Then there are books that surprise and delight and make you glad you took a chance on it. And then there are books that completely suck you in, plunge you into a world of the author’s making, and refuse to let you go until you turn the last page. Sassafras Lowrey’s Lost Boi is just such a book. Rarely have I been so blown away by an author’s talent, or so immersed in the act of reading that I look up at the real world and have to take a moment to re-orient myself. Much like Lowrey’s lost bois enmeshed in the pirates’ ropes, I found myself held captive by Lowrey’s words, and while it wasn’t necessarily a wholly pleasurable experience, it was certainly a memorable one.
Lost Boi is a queer punk reimagining of Peter Pan, where the choice to never grow up is a choice to adopt a particular kink lifestyle. The conflict between the lost bois and the pirates is a conflict between two particular approaches to kink — the bois rejecting the rigidity of the pirates’ rules and rituals. Battles are consensual play and the enmity between Hook and Pan is much more complex than even they can explain.
Lost Boi contains layers upon layers of metaphor. I love the contrast between the lost bois choosing to live as children, and the pirates adopting an adult lifestyle yet, as Lowrey’s narrator Tootles points out, not quite completely giving up their childhood either. I love how Lowrey translates the various elements of the Neverland mythology into an urban environment, and somehow makes it all seem real. And I love how Lowrey manages the reverse as well — there’s a rough enchantment to the urban landscape and even pigeons can appear to possess some magic.
Kink is a world unfamiliar to me, and to be honest I don’t quite understand the appeal of a D/s lifestyle, especially beyond the bedroom, yet when the bois call Pan “Sir” and agree to wear his cuff, somehow it all just makes sense. And perhaps that’s part of Lowrey’s genius – ze so completely immerses you in Neverland, and is so subtle about explaining the bits and pieces of this world, that you too feel like an insider, like you are just as much part of Neverland as the characters are.
Lost Boi also stands out for me in being possibly the most gender fluid novel I’ve read. It’s tempting to, as I initially did, impose a sense of gender binary on the characters (“bois” are male and “grrls” are female), yet Lowrey’s characters defy such binaries. John Michael is a tomboy who lived with Wendi in a foster home for girls and at least one lost boi is referred to as “she”. Pan himself is referred to as “he” throughout the book but when he meets an adult outside Neverland, the narrator refers to the adult being unsure if he were a man or woman. True to the Neverland ethos, even age is fluid — the bois are referred to as children yet we have no idea how old they really are, and Pan appears a biological adult with muscular forearms, tattoos, and near the end of the story, grey in his hair.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would like this book. It’s described as “punk” and I don’t quite understand what punk is. It’s based on Peter Pan, and while I well understand the desire to remain a child forever, it was never really a childhood favourite for me. Still, I was somewhat intrigued, so I decided to borrow it from the library. I say all this to urge you to give it a chance, even if it isn’t the type of book you usually read. Within the first chapter, I was hooked, and by the end of the book, I was ready to pick up my own copy. It’s that good.