Review: The Lost & Found by Katrina Leno

February 23, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 1 ★½

Review: The Lost & Found by Katrina LenoThe Lost & Found by Katrina Leno
Published by HarperTeen on July 5, 2016
Genres: Magical Realism, YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: finished copy from the publisher
Sometimes you have to get lost before you can be found.

Lost: Frannie and Louis met in an online support group for trauma survivors when they were both little and have been pen pals ever since. They have never met face-to-face. They don’t even know each other’s real names. All they know is that they understand each other better than anyone else. And they both have a tendency to lose things. Well, not lose them, exactly. Things just seem to…disappear.

Found: In Louis’s mailbox is a letter, offering him a tennis scholarship—farther from home than he’s ever allowed himself to think of going.

In Frannie’s mailbox is a letter, informing her of her mother’s death—and one last wish.

Setting off from opposite coasts, Frannie and Louis each embark on a road trip to Austin, Texas, looking for answers—and each other. Along the way, each one begins to find important things the other has lost. And by the time they finally meet in person, they realize that the things you lose might be things you weren’t meant to have at all, and that you never know what you might find if you just take a chance.

Diversity: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 3 (Frannie’s cousin Arrow is Vietnamese; Willa and Louis are Indian)
QUILTBAG: 0 (one gay character who is both a major part of the story and barely in it)
Disability: 1 (Willa lost her legs in a childhood accident; Frannie’s mom is problematic schizophrenic rep)
Intersectionality: 2 (all of the above; it’s kinda complicated in Willa’s case)

I wasn’t actually supposed to get a copy of The Lost & Found. It didn’t interest me at all; rather, I was meant to get the similarly titled The Lost and the Found by Cat Clarke. It’s a mistake that happens sometimes! Not reading the book at all felt rude, so I put The Lost & Found on my TBR and its turn to be read came around. This book is an odd case of how the characters at the core of a story can be wonderful, interesting people but be surrounded by things that make their book downright bad.

I like Frannie and Louis. I really do. Though the magical realism aspect of how they “lose” things and are later found by their pen pal clear across the country was unexpected, it was still somewhat enjoyable. We’ve all lost something with no idea how it happened or the loss being downright baffling. It may not be to the extent of a tennis racket disappearing from a locked car trunk in the middle of a car ride, but it still happened somehow. Frannie and Louis take “the art of losing isn’t hard to master” a wee bit far! Their respective traumas are well-written and their characters develop well over the course of the story.

Frannie and Louis are what’s right with The Lost & Found. Everything else is what’s wrong with the novel.

Though I like Louis’s disabled sister Willa especially, she falls a bit into the trap of the desexualized disabled person. See, she fell as a child and both of her legs were amputated. Louis says of his sister that he “knew lots of guys who’d liked [his] sister only to have their hopes dashed when they found out that she only had crushes on sleeping and tater tots” (p. 59) and that gave me hope she’d be an asexual girl. Intersectionality! However, the regular desexualization of disabled people in literature makes the idea of Willa being asexual much more complicated.

In the end, it turns out Willa is in fact heterosexual and she’d been secretly dating a guy for a year before her insecurities about her legs played a role in that relationship’s end. And yet despite Willa’s insecurities and romantic history, she still comes off as desexualized.

Of course, I say all this as an able-bodied woman. This book would be better reviewed by a disabled woman who could more meaningfully engage with the issue, but it was important for me to detail this nonetheless to properly express why The Lost & Found failed to impress me. If I find a disabled woman discussing the book, I’ll happily link to her words here so you can read what she has to say.

A much more straightforward issue I feel comfortable expressing problems with is the portrayal of Frannie’s mother, a schizophrenic woman who died before the novel’s beginning when she committed suicide in a home for the unwell. Her mother is called insane, crazy, etc. throughout the book instead of being treated with respect as a mentally ill human being.

It’s wrong there are so few schizophrenic characters in YA who have their illness under control or at least don’t kill themselves/die of something related to their illness! Schizophrenic teens who are deserve to see that people like them grow up and become adults who live fulfilling lives. Clearly, Frannie’s mom was able to get far enough to marry and have a child! If Frannie’s mom had to be dead in the name of the story, a scenario like this would have been both kinder to schizophrenic people and less cliche: during a particularly bad spell of hallucinations, she voluntarily moves into the home for as long as it takes to get her illness back under control. Unfortunately, she dies of an unknown heart problem or an allergic reaction to s0me medication.

Let me remind you again that this book isn’t entirely terrible. Its characters are diverse in their identities; Louis and Willa are Indian and Frannie’s cousin/best friend Arrow is Vietnamese. The novel is at its strongest during the cross-country road trip to meet up in Texas and our two narrators are written well. The problem is that what I like about this novel is both outweighed and tempered by what I dislike: the poor representation of Frannie’s mom and questionable rep of Willa.

Most readers have criticized the out-of-place magical realism, but it wasn’t much of a problem for me compared to other things. Despite that, quite a few of my friends have been big fans of Leno’s since her debut with The Half Life of Molly Pierce. I can’t recommend her, nor can I say you shouldn’t read her books. It’s your decision this time. If the premises of her books interest you, go for it! If not, don’t worry about it.

Wintry Bingo 14 The Lost and Found copy

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