Monday, July 9, 2012

Review >> Lost Girls

Lost Girls by Ann Kelley
Release Date: July 10, 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover, 319 pages (9780316090629)
Source: ARC from ALA

The Amelia Earhart Cadets, military daughters living on base during the Vietnam War, are gearing up for a camping trip on a deserted island off the coast of Thailand. Bonnie MacDonald has been eagerly awaiting this trip to spend time away from her family to be with her friends and their glamorous chaperone. Their trip takes a turn for the worse when a devastating storm destroys their camp and leaves one girl dead and the others fighting for survival stranded on the "forbidden island." How many days can the girls survive and will they ever be rescued?

"It all began with my mother changing her mind."

Let me just start off by saying that I loved Lost Girls. Don't get me wrong, it's definitely not without it's issues and could certainly use a significant amount of rewriting, but there was just something about this story that really struck a chord with me. The book is described as Lord of the Flies but with females and it really does share similar elements. It is also supposedly based on a true story. The story is not just a survival tale, however, nor is it necessarily a commentary on how societies can succumb to chaos under certain conditions. Ann Kelley does manages to tackle these issues as well as ideas of culture clash and the potential devastation that can arise when one way of living is suddenly and violently forced upon another way of living. There is a great deal of social commentary you can pick out from this story, and there is a even a tiny dash of magical realism thrown in.

Bonnie MacDonald is the daughter of military father involved in the Vietnam War effort, and she finds her views of the world and the war often clash with that of her father. Her worldviews, however, are quickly obscured by her sudden predicament on the island when she realizes the dire situation she and her scouts are in and how completely at the mercy they are of elements beyond their control. She may be a bit hotheaded as well as rash, but she manages to hold onto her humanity rather gracefully, and does this by grounding herself by remembering her life from before the island and consulting a book (Zen and the Art of Motorcycles Maintenance) given to her by her mother prior to the trip. As for the other characters, with the exception of the highly intellectual Jas, I found there was nothing particularly exceptional about the others stranded on the island. Layla Campbell, whom Bonnie idolizes for her bohemian lifestyle and who is also the only adult accompanying them on the trip, immediately establishes herself as ineffectual and only hinders the survival efforts of the senior cadets. I think the interpretation of this can be left to the reader, but within the story it seemed a bit redundant for Bonnie to continually clash with Layla, especially since it is quite apparent her coping mechanism is not one that can easily be changed. In my opinion, I think the story would have been quite interesting if Bonnie had actually been the only survivor from the storm, particularly since she has a Murakami-esque experience on Koh Tabu (the name of the island) which profoundly impacts her.

The downside to Lost Girls is that I am not quite a fan of Ann Kelley's writing style. The inclusion of the journal entries from Bonnie became a bit tiresome and occasionally detracted from the flow of the book, but not significantly so. There are also many references to other books, which would be fine if it weren't so unnecessary. For example, the girls decide to make a fire using one of the girl's glasses, and proceed to explain that this was done with Piggy's glasses in Lord of the Flies. It's a perfect reference but it doesn't really need to be included in this story. I found the action scenes to be resolved far too quickly, and there were certain descriptions and events within the book that didn't seem to make sense within the context of the story. What Kelley does succeed in, however, is her scenic descriptions as well as the magical realism elements of the book. There is a bit of a mystery surrounding the forbidden island the girls find themselves on, and the author did a fantastic job of dropping hints to the reader that something is amiss and it is unclear whether this mysterious presence is malevolent or not. (As a side note, I want to point out that the version reviewed here is an ARC and there may be some stylistic elements that were changed in the final edit. I am looking forward to picking up a finished copy to see if this is the case.)

Lost Girls was one of the few books that really moved me after reading. There was something about the setting of the secluded island, the horrific situation the girls have been thrust into, the mysterious elements sprinkled throughout the story, and the insight from Bonnie that really had an impact on me. To be perfectly honest, this is one of the first stories in a long time that truly had me in tears, and I think readers will find Bonnie's tale of survival and how humans react to situations beyond their control to be quite thought provoking.

"My eyes fill with tears and all I see is rainbow."

If you liked Lost Girls, you might also want to check out:

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Hatchet (Brian's Saga #1) by Gary Paulsen
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

**All quotes taken from Lost Girls

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