I knew The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu was going to hold a special place in my heart just a couple chapters in. About half way through I had a feeling it would be the book of 2019 that I would try to shove into the hands of any and all who expressed slightest interest in a book recommendation. By the time I was finished with it, I knew it would be a book that would stay with me always. Then comes this part. The part where I want to tell the world why. I kept thinking that I needed to give my emotions time to settle. That I needed to be able to approach it with calm rationale. But you know what? That is nonsense. This book made me feel. That is part of its power. So this isn't going to be objective. I doubt I will ever be able to think about this book objectively.
Iris and Lark are identical twins. Though they might look the same they are completely different people. However, they are also two halves of a whole. A pair. A team. When fifth grade begins, they discover the powers in their lives have decided it is time for them to learn to navigate life without the other one to rely on. They are in separate classes for the first time ever. They are being forced into separate after school activities. Practical, rational, fierce Iris finds she lacks the confidence she once had. She is quieter. Less in command. As if in not being able to speak for Lark, she has lost her voice. Lark shrinks further into herself unsure of how to navigate a teacher who terrifies her, the grade bully, and an environment that doesn't value her creativity without her sister there to help her. And then things start going missing. Small things at home. Big things around the city. And. a mysterious shop opens up that seems to hold both questions and answers and has a strange pull on Iris.
One of the reasons I can't really look at this book objectively is Iris. The story mainly follows her. We have far more insight into her activities and thoughts than we do into Lark's world. It is a brilliant narrative choice on Ursu's part. The mysterious narrator begins the novel discussing both girls and slowly narrows the focus to Iris. Because Lark is such an integral part of Iris, she's there too, but we aren't in her head nearly as often. I identify with Iris so thoroughly that it is almost scary. There are so many pages with so many quotes that felt pulled directly from my own head. I get Iris on a molecular level, so it was inevitable that I would be invested in thoroughly invested in her story. In her. Iris is prickly, values rationality, knows she is smart (but probably shouldn't say it out loud), has trouble making friends, is confident but introverted, and is a unilateral problem solver. She doesn't consult others, but acts when and how she deems it necessary. And speaks her mind without thinking of all the consequences. That she ends up in trouble is unsurprising though how she gets there is in many ways. Lark is the creative one. She makes up stories, is an artist, and sees the world in beautiful ways. She has a talent for seeing the light in the dark and twisting the tale to show that the monsters are weak and beatable. Lark does have trouble navigating the world the way it is in many aspects, but she has an inner strength and courage all her own. The girls have a beautiful relationship, and I felt every bit of their anger, fear, and resentment at being separated.
The story itself is highly relatable for all readers. No one likes change. No one likes feeling out of control. Any person who has ever felt lonely, isolated, abandoned, or lost will find something in this book with which to relate. All of the day to day to school and family problems are typical of any child. I loved how well Ursu gets the dichotomy between kids and adults though. Sometimes you read a MG book and know that it is being written by someone who is remembering being a kid and not really spending time getting to know actual kids. Then sometimes you a read a book that gets it so exactly right, and this is one of them. It's one of those books I want to hand to adults and say, "Read this so you understand them. Read this so you remember they are beings with feelings and emotions all their own and not just an extension of you." A place this is really obvious is in the generational differences in how the characters speak and handle problems. I love that the college student who is in charge of Iris's after school club is often flabbergasted by her young charges and what they know and can converse about. It's not a wide age gap, and yet the difference is staggering, which is very true to what I see in my own experience working with a wide range of ages. The way the girls at the library club discuss both super-heroes and fairy tales is very true to Gen Z (or whatever we're calling the current crop of elementary students now).
The other major reason I can't think objectively about this book lies in its very premise and resolution. It's hard to discuss thoroughly without spoilers. Suffice it to say that the villain is one any girl will recognize from ten paces out, but it is also completely understandable why Iris is not more wary. What Ursu did with that whole part of the plot is nothing short of phenomenal crafting. Read it as it is and accept its surface value and it has so much power. Stop and thinking about all the possible symbolism there, and it packs a whole other punch. Either way, it will have an impact. And the way that evil is finally defeated even more so. I sobbed my way through last the pages of the novel. Cried all over it. It was good crying. The sort that has a power all of its own and is renewing.
I want to put this book in every girl's hands so they know that they are not alone.