The Book of Lost Friends (Ballantine Books, 2020)
By Lisa Wingate
“If there is magic in this world, it is contained in books.” – The Book of Lost Friends
Anywho, our intrepid humans at The Book Place know Mom loves historical fiction too. They’ve piled her with tons of historical fiction set in World War II. But Mom got a teensy-weensy bit tired of HF set during WWII.
So someone suggested The Book of Lost Friends. Set in 1875-ish and 1987. I’ll let Mom tell you more. You know how Mom is. Take it away, Mom:
The Power of Story
Not all stories are found in books. Unwritten stories are still stories. They only die “for lack of listenin’ ears.”
That’s one reason you’ll want to listen up to The Book of Lost Friends. It’s a bibliophile’s delight and a powerful story about the power of story. As in:
“’We die once when the last breath leaves our bodies. We die a second time when the last person speaks our name.’ The first death is beyond our control, but the second one we can strive to prevent.”
Supremely well-written and rimming with rich descriptions and robust characters, The Book of Lost Friends is a riveting, absorbing read with two timelines:
Louisiana 1875 in the tumultuous Reconstruction era. Told in the first person from Hannie’s POV, the story focuses on three women:
- Hannie is a freed slave. She’s searching for the long-lost family torn from her before slavery’s end.
- Lavinia is the preening young heiress (read: spoiled, self-centered brat) of a now-destitute plantation.
- Juneau June is Lavinia’s Creole half-sister. Juneau June is trying to reclaim her stolen inheritance.
Each young woman has her own reasons for traveling to Texas. All are unlikely traveling compadres. But the uneasy past and an “uneasier” present merge into a dangerous, peril-filled journey. They can only rely on each other to get through. Will they make it? If they do, will they find what they’re looking for?
Louisiana, 1987. Newly-minted first-year teacher Benedetta “Benny” Silva arrives in The Middle of Nowheresville, LA. She’s teaching at a poor rural school in exchange for student debt forgiveness.
Along the way Benny stumbles upon a Civil War-era Grand House in Goswood Grove. (Think Twelve Oaks.) The Grand House includes a humungous library. And unwritten stories waiting to be heard.
Past echoes spill into the present as Benny learns that “There’s no faster way to change your circumstances than to open a great book.”
And what about Benny’s ghosts from her haunted, transient upbringing? Her negligent, occasional Mom and detached Italian Dad? And what’s up with Nathan Gossett?
So Much to Love
There’s so much to love in this book. A taut, tight plot. Smooth-as-silk transitions between timelines. Chapters ending with Doggone it! cliff-hangers catapulting you into the next chapter. I did not see the ending coming, not for love or kibble!
Also resplendent phrases like:
“…doors that list in their frames like tired old men resting against the walls” and “the overall feel is that of a grandmother’s house in the day before the estate sale, after family members have divided up the heirlooms.” And, “I … stand mesmerized, drenched in leather and paper and gold edges and ink in words.”
Aunt Sarge & Granny T
Did I mention Aunt Sarge and the formidable Granny T? Granny is “part nurturer, part mob boss, and as granddame of the Carter family Cluck and Oink fame, she controls the local pipeline of smoked meat, boudin balls, and 15 kinds of pie.” A poor rural high school class on fire with fresh ideas and imagination?
“There’s power in allowing kids to choose a book, rather than having to take what’s handed to them.”
‘Bout time someone said it. I’ve long felt this way about William Faulkner and J.D. Salinger, to the horror of high school English teachers everywhere. (Hi, Mrs. Lane.)
This book is a “Bermuda Triangle” of cool stuff: Fine historical fiction intersects with Bibliophile 101 intersects with family and friends and a touch of romance. Wait. That’s a quadrangle. Well. Nobody’s perfect.
But I’d listen up, ‘fize you.