Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield
Lost & Found
by Brooke Davis
Paperback, $26.99aud, ISBN: 9780733632754
Touted as the feel good hit of 2014, Lost & Found sold into twenty-one territories before the ink had dried on the first copy. This news made me somewhat hesitant. I’ve been disappointed before, as I’m sure we all have. There’s nothing worse than having one’s hopes raised only to discover the story fails to measure up to expectations. I’m pleased to say that in this case my expectations were realised.
When Brooke Davis’ mother died unexpectedly Brooke’s thoughts turned, not surprisingly, to death and the fragility of life. Why does no one speak openly about dying? How can we possibly live knowing that at any moment our loved ones may be snatched away? And so it was that through her grieving process Lost & Found was born.
An author’s greatest task is creating interesting characters that readers will relate to and care about which, it must be stated, is no easy task. Incredibly, Davis has managed to do this not once, but three times. Lost & Found is essentially three multi-layered stories woven into one.
The story begins with seven-year old Millie:
Millie’s dog, Rambo, was her Very First Dead Thing. She found him by the side of the road on a morning when the sky seemed to be falling, fog circling his broken shape like a ghost. (3)
Millie is obsessed with death. She keeps a record of every Death Thing she finds and for each one lights a candle. When her dad died, she filled a tree with candles. Abandoned by her mother in the local shopping centre, Millie hides amongst the maternity wear to await her return, watched over by a mannequin named Manny.
Millie meets eighty-seven year old Karl the Touch Typist in the Centre café. Karl likes to ‘type’—on tabletops, his knees, and sometimes on the heads of small children. Like Millie, Karl knows a thing or two about loss:
Another thing Karl knows about Evie (part two)
She had been like a dandelion, as if a single breath of his would cause her to fly off into the sky and never be seen again. She was so quiet, too, not just in the way she spoke, but in the way she conducted herself, as though she was always around sleeping people, tiptoeing everywhere, barely making footprints on the beach they walked along together in the early hours of most mornings. (167)
Karl lives a largely invisible life, marking time until his last breath. Little does he realise when confronted by this unusual child with her Vegemite jars and tea-light candles that he is about to embark on an adventure that will show him just how much life he still has left to live.
After two days in the shopping centre, Millie goes home where she finds no sign of her mother, other than an itinerary that indicates she’s gone to Melbourne. Millie knocks on neighbour Agatha Pantha’s door for help. Agatha, who has spent the years since her husband’s death measuring the creeping signs of old age and screaming at the world through her window, wants nothing whatsoever to do with anyone:
6.05 to 6.45: Sits in the Chair of Disbelief and measures Cheek Elasticity, Distance From Nipples To Waist, Foreign Hair Growth, Wrinkle Count, Projected Wrinkle Trajectory and Arm Wobblage. Notes the data in an exercise book titled Age. Narrates the entire event while looking at herself in the mirror. I’m measuring Arm Wobblage now! she yells at herself while she bats a hand at the underside of her upper arm. It’s up from yesterday! she yells after checking the data. It’s always up from yesterday!
6.46: Allows herself one deep, dark sigh.’ (59)
Unperturbed by Agatha’s rudeness, the persistent Millie ignites a small flame in Agatha who leaves her house for the first time in years determined to see this abandoned child returned to her mother. And so it is that Millie, Agatha, Karl and Manny the mannequin are reunited and after a scrape or two, find themselves aboard the Indian Pacific hurtling across the Nullarbor Plain headed for Melbourne.
While Millie, Karl and Agatha are all tragic individuals this is not a depressing read. Davis’ true talent lies in her ability to inject humour and lightness into every page. Millie’s plight alone should have had me in tears by page two, but Davis has drawn this character so skilfully that at no point did I pity her. Yes, I wanted to give her mother a slap for leaving her daughter in a shopping centre—but at the same time I understood why she did what she did. And that is the magic of this story: Everyone who has ever been torn asunder by loss will relate to these broken people.
Lost & Found is a story about the aftermath of death, but more importantly it is a story about life and how to live it. I would recommend this title to everyone—particularly those who feel their best days are behind them.
About the reviewer: Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels for children and YAs In addition, several of her short stories and articles have appeared both in print and online. She has regularly reviewed children’s books for e-zine Buzz Words since 2006 and is currently working on her first adult novel.