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BOOK REVIEWS, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Fantasy, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions

THE LOST GIRL by Anne Ursu

The Lost Girl centers around two identical twin sisters, Iris and Lark.  Iris tends to be more practical and Lark is the daydreamer, drawn more to fantasy than fact. The girls feel sure that “they have better outcomes when they are together.” When the book begins Iris and Lark are about to enter 5th grade.  They discover that–for the first time–they are going to be placed in separate classrooms.  The book centers on their first several weeks in 5th grade, each trying to adjust to functioning in a school environment without the other.  Iris is the character through whose eyes we experience both the perceived injustice of the situation and the ramifications for each girl.

This part of the story is extremely well done.  Ms. Ursu sprinkles backstory throughout the book, giving the reader the history of Iris’ and Lark’s premature birth and the occasions when Lark has been hospitalized with serious illnesses as a child. This is helpful in understanding the bond that exists between the sisters and why it is so strong. Ursu does a fantastic job of letting Iris express her opinions and feelings–and consequent confusion–about being separated from Lark in a genuine and believable way. Both Iris and Lark struggle and grow independently to find their own way to a knowledge of themselves both as individuals AND as twin sisters.  The moment when Iris has a realization late in the book that perhaps there is a completely different way to look at the situation between her and her sister in which she actually has some control simply by adjusting her own behavior is skillfully written.  That scene is my favorite in the book as it beautifully expresses one of those moments we all have in life when you move from one level of understanding about the world (and the people in it) to another.

Parallel to the main story about Iris and Lark is a fantasy thread involving a new, mysterious and magical neighborhood shop called Treasure Hunters and several high profile art thefts in Minneapolis, where the story is set.  Iris also attends “Camp Awesome,” an after-school activity for girls to participate in bonding, cliched girl-power-type activities.  The leader of the Camp Awesome and its activities would be tired and ridiculous if Ursu had not let Iris attend with a heavy skepticism.  Iris learns it’s possible to like some activities that you really thought you would hate–if you open your mind to them and are willing to take some risks by being vulnerable.  This is an extremely valuable lesson for both Iris and the young readers of her story.  Where there is a problem is when Ursu begins to merge the realistic and fantasy storylines. (I had the same problem with her novel Breadcrumbs.)  In contrast to the rest of the story, the final convergence of Iris (and Lark–and the Camp Awesome girls) with Mr. George Green, the strange proprietor of Treasure Hunters, in the final chapters of the book feels contrived.  His actions do not develop organically from the story that exists in the first three-quarters of the book.  This left me with a vaguely disappointed feeling as I finished the book.

In summary, The Lost Girl was a fairly quick, easy read.  The pacing feels comfortably real until the last quarter of the book. Without the fantasy element the story is sensitively and insightfully crafted. As a springboard for discussion about what it means to continually discover who you really are as an individual and how to allow yourself permission and the courage to do it, The Lost Girl is an absolutely worthwhile read.

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