The Lost Girls
by Heather Young
WM Morrow | 2016
Hardcover: 352 pages
Hardcover ARC won from LibraryThing/Early Readers and ARC e-reader from Edelweiss in exchange for an unbiased review.
It has been a long time since I picked up a book that I read straight through the night and I was invested in the characters deeply enough to cry at the end. And to think this was the author’s first book!
I found this notebook in the desk yesterday…It was as though it had lain in wait…until now … sixty-four years [later]. Since Lilith’s passing…the story of that summer has been mine alone, to keep or to share. I am the last…I hold secrets that don’t belong to me…Better to let it be, I tell myself…But this notebook reminds me that it’s not so simple as that…So I will write my family’s story, here in this book … I will tell it as fully as I can, even the parts that grieve me…Lucy Evans
Lucy Evans’ great-grandfather, leaving the coal mines of Wales, arrived in America, and improved his status eventually co-founding Williamsburg, Minnesota. The Lost Girls covers five generations of women in this prominent family. Lucy’s family, along with six other Williamsburg families, owned a summer retreat on a remote lake. A local mixed-race family owned a restaurant and lodge that was central to the social life of the lake residents. In the fall of 1935, as the temporary residents on the lake prepare to head back to town in advance of the harsh Minnesota winter, Lucy’s six-year old sister, Emily, disappears in the dead of night. Lucy’s distraught and overprotective mother never returns to Williamsburg and she, along with the two remaining sisters, stay at the lake- always leaving the light on for Emily.
Sixty-four years later, Lucy, the last of the Thomas Evans family still lives at the lake, and knowing she will soon be gone, decides it’s time to tell her family’s story…warts and all. Lucy leaves the Evans estate to her grandniece, Justine, along with the notebook revealing all the family’s dirty secrets.
The book alternates from Lucy’s first person narration with the third person narrator focusing on the life of Lucy’s grandniece, Justine after Lucy’s death. As Lucy shares her story we begin to see how the sins of the past generations have deeply scarred Justine’s life in the present.
Lucy’s story is so compelling that Justine’s story seems weak at first but as the book progresses Justine’s family issues become as important as the search for the truth about Emily’s disappearance. As the two stories converge, putting the book down is nearly impossible!
The novel is emotionally hard at times. The isolation, loneliness and emotional distress of each character is palpable. Both Lucy and Justine’s family secrets are slowly revealed but you can still feel them viscerally just below the surface from beginning to end. Would the story have changed if each succeeding generation not borne only girls? What draws each of the girls to a toxic spouse? Is there a way to save Justine and her girls?
The book is so well written that it is hard to believe it’s the author’s first work of fiction! The descriptions of the lake and the woods make you feel as though you are witnessing things through three-D glasses. Lucy’s penchant for writing children’s books about Emily are works of art in themselves. There are so many layers to this book but the reader never gets lost in the story; just hungry to know more…Love, loyalty, friendship and family bonds are tested and the conclusion of the book will leave you stunned.