Essential Maps for the Lost



Sometimes people want to be lost. Madison—Mads to everyone who knows her—is trying her best to escape herself during one last summer away from a mother who needs more from her than she can give, and from a future that has been decided by everyone but her.

Sometimes the lost do the unimaginable, like the woman, the body, Mads collides with in the middle of the water on a traumatic morning that changes everything.

And sometimes the lost are the ones left behind, like the son of the woman in the water, Billy Youngwolf Floyd. Billy is struggling to find his way through each day in the shadow of grief. His one comfort is the map he carries in his pocket, out of his favorite book The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

When three lives (and one special, shared book) collide, strange things happen. Things like questions and coincidences and secrets, lots of secrets. Things like falling in love. But can two lost people telling so many lies find their way through tragedy to each other…and to solid ground?

My thoughts

This is a raw and revealing tale of survival and resilience, of searching for sunlight and chasing your dreams.

Right from the start the reader is warned that the story between Madison Murray (Mads) and Billy Youngwolf Floyd will be horrible but also beautiful. Readers are told to hang on through the tough bits and wait for the good. Well, this is great advice. There are plenty of hard bits in this story. One minute everything is going along smoothly, sunshine and puppy dogs, kisses and smiles and then suddenly everything spirals downwards, only to jump back again. This certainly is a book that drags you right along through the characters’ emotional turmoil.

Mads is up against a ticking clock. She has this one last summer before she must return home to her (slightly unstable) mother who needs her (and loves her), the (in-danger-of-crumbling) real-estate business she will share with her mother, and her endless future of house-showings and signed deals. She must pass her real-estate licensing course, forget about the college applications she never sent, and cope with the despair she feels over the looming deadline to her life. When Mads bumps into the body of Anna Youngwolf Floyd while swimming one morning, Mads’ path is irrevocably altered. Her obsession with Anna, who she was and why she came to be in the lake, brings her into the orbit of Anna’s son Billy. They connect through a series of unlikely yet not-coincidental meetings, but their story is not to be a smooth journey.   
The story is written in an interesting style. The book opens with a section of second-person narration, where the reader is warned about the nature of Billy and Mads’ story. This second-person narration reappears at intervals throughout the story, while the book continues to be told in a style which seems half exactly what the characters are thinking or feeling put into words and half a knowledgable narrator looking down and making comments and foretellings. There is just something about the narration, the tone of the story that drags you in, it is charming and just a little quirky. In a way it was hard to connect with the characters, as you aren’t quite in the characters’ heads and there is never any doubt that Billy, Mads and co. are just characters in a story. But there is something undeniably nice about being told a story.

I’ve heard depression called many things and described in many ways. The ogres. That’s how Mads’ feelings are described. The obese ogre of self-loathing who points and laughs. The ogre of despair who is large and loves to push and pull and stomp. In contrast, it is Billy’s favourite video game, Night Worlds, that is used to convey his feelings, where it is a Gaze Attack that can so quickly create an Ability Drain or relief that offers a spell of Fast Healing. Essential Maps for the Lost is a love story, but it’s also a warning to readers to beware the people and the voices inside yourself who tell you to give up or that there is no future. And it’s the story of Mads and Billy who find their ability to hope and hold onto their dreams both inside each other and inside themselves.

I loved how Mads’ situation is never compared to Billy’s, it is never undermined or devalued. Yes, she has a mother who loves her! A business! An extended family who cares! She has a future! But her feelings of despair are real and true, and I loved that this book validates how she is feeling, regardless of how her life may compare to others’.

This is a charming story, childlike and yet it covers some very mature topics. It is simple, complicated and brilliant. A great mix of hopeful and somber, realistic with just that little touch of everyday magic you find in the most unlikely of places.

The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

More information

Category: Young adult fiction.

Genre: Contemporary.

Themes: Suicide, mental health, depression, family, friendship, romance.

Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.

Advisory: Infrequent coarse language, f***, s***. Mature themes surrounding suicide. Sexual references.

Published: 5 April 2016 by Simon Pulse.

Format: Hardcover,  ebook. 336 pages.

ISBN: 9781481415163

Find it on Goodreads