Top positive review
Lost No More, These Characters and Stories are Some of My New Best Friends
Reviewed in the United States on April 19, 2020
Reading The Book of Lost Friends--what a privilege. It's one of those books that makes you go, "Wow," not only as you finish but while you are reading it. I didn't want it to end, and now I want as many more like it as Lisa Wingate is prepared to give her readers.
The stories of Hannie Gossett and Benedetta Silva connect beautifully, forming the best example of a split time novel I've seen from Lisa Wingate. The stories feed into each other, showing how the past informs the present and the present influences past choices so that future generations can have positive experiences. Within that, the diversity of human experiences shines more than in most books I've read lately. In one book, we get the stories of an ex-slave girl, a privileged mixed-race girl (both of whom are forced to live as boys), and a 1980s teacher who looks privileged because she's white and middle-class, but is nursing pain and lack. Within *that*, we also get the non-POV stories of people like Nathan and Robin Gossett, LaJuna Gossett, Shad and Gar Fish, and Missy Lavinia, all of whom have multifaceted backgrounds and journeys.
You'd think Lisa would drop the ball somewhere during all these journeys, but she gives the secondary characters just enough page time and shading to both pop and fit seamlessly into the main protagonists' stories. Additionally, she crafts her novel around universal themes without being preachy, so that when they are directly addressed, the reader can support that decision. For instance, the themes of privilege vs. want, freedom vs. slavery, could've been heavy-handed. Instead, organic things like Hannie's conversations with Juneau Jane or Benedetta bringing her students pooperoos, turn these into themes that make you think.
As noted, every character pops off the page and has a distinct, relatable voice. Having been a teacher--and a misunderstood one at that--I identified heavily with Benedetta, but also rooted for Hannie, and even Juneau Jane and Lavinia as well. Their character growth occurs across a great mix of internal and external stakes, and I loved the interwoven surprises, such as the true identity of Moses, the reappearance of Gus McKlatchy in both timelines, and the revelation of Robin's project, as well as how it affected Benedetta's students.
The Louisiana and Texas settings suck you in and keep you riveted. I loved accompanying Benedetta on her walks through the cemetery, and during Hannie's chapters, I could absolutely feel the constant humidity, muck, and heat. (Eck, but in a good way)! Goswood Grove functions as a character in itself, like a stately old woman who might be "crumbling" or dealing with "dementia," but still has a story to tell if you'll listen. The Cluck and Oink and Granny T were two of my favorite additions, and I especially loved how much the kids loved Granny T. But I think my favorite location had to be Judge Gossett's library, partly because of LaJuna's relationship with it. It reminded me of The Book Thief, with a Southern Gothic twist.
As with any great book, it's the scenes that stick in your mind. I had so many favorites it would take forever to list them all, but here are a few to keep an eye out for:
-Benedetta's first conversations with Granny T. and Sarge
-Granny T's presentation
-Hannie's midnight jaunt to the library
-Hannie and Juneau Jane discover the Lost Friends and begin writing down stories
-Hannie and Juneau Jane cement sisterhood
-Benedetta confronts the Gossett-ruled school board
-The final Tales from the Underground project/unification of prologue and epilogue
The Book of Lost Friends as an object also unites the stories of modern students and families in the best way I've ever seen it done. Benedetta's half of the story could've easily been the same old, "save our underprivileged students" story, but not only does she learn from the kids, they learn from her and embrace their history in deep, organic ways. Special mention to Benedetta's conversation with Gar Fish over his history (oops, another wonderful scene I forgot)!
I could, as you can see, go on all day, but I'll leave this review here. Just a few more words: Read it. You're going to love it. And, to Lisa Wingate, can we have a sequel ASAP, PLEASE? Thanks!