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"The librarian, Ms. Miranda, “reached into the pocket of her shirt. Fiona’s first thought was that Ms. Miranda was pulling out a gun. But that was ridiculous. A librarian would choose a quieter weapon. Something like poison or a nice tight gag.”–Long Lost
by Jacqueline West
Eleven-year-old Fiona has just read a book that doesn’t exist.
When Fiona’s family moves to a new town to be closer to her older sister’s figure skating club—and far from Fiona’s close-knit group of friends—nobody seems to notice Fiona’s unhappiness. Alone and out of place, Fiona ventures to the town’s library, a rambling mansion donated by a long-dead heiress. There she finds a gripping mystery novel about a small town, family secrets, and a tragic disappearance.
Soon, Fiona begins to notice strange similarities that blur the lines between the novel and her new town. With a little help from a few odd Lost Lake locals, Fiona uncovers the book’s strange history. Lost Lake is a town of restless spirits, and Fiona will learn that both help and danger come from unexpected places—maybe even from the sister she thinks doesn’t care about her anymore.
While Long Lost focuses on Fiona, the story also jumps back in time to tell the story of two sisters—Hazel and Pearl. Fiona finds a mysterious book that keeps disappearing and reappearing; the book gives her a look into Hazel’s and Pearl’s lives. Fiona’s side of the story starts off slowly as her most pressing conflict is getting a library card, but soon the action picks up and the reader will get hooked on the mystery of what caused Hazel to disappear. Another element that builds suspense is the town’s belief in the Searcher, a mysterious black-draped apparition that steals children. While the plot is interesting, with all the different story elements, the plot may be difficult for some readers to follow.
While the story contains plenty of mystery, it is also a story about sisters. Both sets of sisters—Hazel and Pearl, and Fiona and Arden—get so angry that they wish the Searcher would take their sibling. However, like all siblings, the girls learn the importance of working out their problems and being supportive of each other. Unfortunately, for Hazel and Pearl, this realization doesn’t happen until after they have died and meet up again as ghosts.
While the main characters, Fiona, Hazel, and Pearl are not necessarily relatable, they are well-developed and interesting. Anyone who has siblings will understand the girls who often fight, say mean things to each other, and at the same time love each other.
At times, Long Lost is a spooky story that will have readers’ hearts pounding. Readers will also be trying to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. The one downside of Long Lost is the conclusion, which is rushed and leaves readers with questions. However, the story ends on a hopeful note with Fiona and her sister, Arden, repairing their relationship. Middle-grade readers who love the idea of ghosts, but don’t want the frightening elements of many young adult novels will enjoy Long Lost. If you’re looking for more spooky, fun ghost stories, check out the Shadow School Series by J.A. White.
- When Pearl comes home alone, one of the servants didn’t recognize her. “The pale, fragile form drifting out from between the trees with trancelike steps, hollowed eyes barely looked alive at all. . . beneath the blue pallor and stunned stare, she recognized Pearl’s familiar face. . . The girl was too cold even to shiver. . . Mud clung to her shins. Scratches and scrapes covered her bare arms.” Later, it is revealed that Pearl jumped into the river trying to find her sister.
- While in the woods, Fiona sees the Searcher. “A tall, gaunt, black-draped form. Hunched shoulders. Long, bent spine.” Fiona “didn’t have time to think. She could only whirl around and run.” Fiona is frightened but uninjured.
- In the library, after hours, Fiona meets the ghost of Pearl. Then, “The library’s double doors thumped open. . . The Searcher stepped forward. His cloak dragged along the parquet. Its hood was too deep to reveal any hint of a face inside. . . The Searcher took another step. A rush of cold air swept up the staircase, carrying the smell of damp and mud and rot.” Both girl and ghost run.
- Fiona runs into the library’s basement. “She was still trapped in the dark with one long-dead girl, a ghost dog, and some silent, lurching thing in a long black cloak.” Later, Fiona discovers that the Searcher is really Hazel’s ghost.
- Angry at Hazel, Pearl “lowered her head like a charging bull, and barreled straight into her sister’s stomach. The two of them fell to the ground. . . Pearl lunged forward and snatched the knife from Hazel’s pocket, where it was always kept. As Hazel sat up, trying to grab it back, Pearl kicked her sister in the ribs, knocking her aside. Hazel let out a gasp of pain. . .” The fight is described over two pages.
- Hazel drowns, but her death is not described.
- Hazel’s ghost tricks Fiona into going into a cistern. Fiona “couldn’t feel hands wrapped around her wrists; there were no fingers, no flesh. But the coldness held on to her, as solid as stone. She couldn’t get up.” Hazel attempts to drown Fiona, but someone rescues her. The scene is described over four pages.
Drugs and Alcohol
- After Hazel disappears, her mother is “dosed by the doctor.” Her father locks himself up in a room with a “crystal decanter.”
- Fiona calls herself an idiot and Hazel calls her sister an idiot twice.
- In her thoughts, Fiona uses the word kook several times. When a boy tells her that a book is cursed, Fiona wonders if he is a kook.
- The town has a rumor about a Searcher who “was a dark being that skulked through these woods, awaiting the moment when it might catch another wanderer alone. According to the tales that wound through the town, any such unlucky wander was never seen again.” When Pearl’s sister is missing, Pearl says the Searcher took her.
- Fiona finds a book that tells the story of Pearl and Hazel. The book keeps disappearing and then showing up in a different location. Fiona believes that the book has “been waiting for the right person to come along.”
- Fiona meets a boy her age named Charlie. He believes the disappearing book is cursed. “The book is cursed to remain at the library. It’s can’t leave for long. Just like a ghost can’t leave the place it haunts.”
- Charlie believes in ghosts. He says, “Ghosts are just parts of the past that haven’t stopped happening. Things are unfinished. Like if you disappeared, and no one found you.”
- The ghost of Mrs. Rawlins appears to Fiona.
- As Fiona discovers more about Hazel and Pearl, the book mysteriously adds new pages.
- While looking for clues in Hazel’s bedroom–which has been preserved as she left it—Hazel’s pocket knife “wobbled on its rounded handle like an egg set on a countertop. . . it spun faster and faster, making several full circles before coming back to a halt.” The knife points to “the spot where a peephole was drilled through the wall.”