I hold secrets that don’t belong to me; secrets that would blacken the names of the defenseless dead.
So writes the late Lucy Evans in her the opening pages of the journal she leaves behind that makes up one half of Heather Young’s spellbinding novel The Lost Girls. In 1935, six year-old Emily Evans disappeared from her family’s lakefront summer home in Minnesota. This event had deep and terrible consequences for both her parents and her elder sisters, Lucy and Judith. Sixty four years later, Lucy is the only survivor and in her final days she transcribes the events of that tragic summer where thirteen year-old Judith came of age, Lucy felt left behind, and Emily was their mother’s favorite. It’s left for Lucy’s grand-niece, Justine, to find the truth behind Emily’s disappearance.
Justine’s story supplies the other half of the narrative and her story is also a dark and complicated one. Justine never knew her father, her mother dragged her along on a miserable vagabond existence and before she turned 20, she became pregnant, the baby’s father father an addict. She’s now a single mother of two, on the run from a terrifying manipulative and controlling former lover. Lucy’s home has been left to her and she moves in hoping for a fresh start. But she has to cope with her increasingly troubled older daughter, her unstable mother coming home hoping to get Justine’s inheritance for herself, and worst of all, the return of her stalker ex.
Young creates a wonderful sense of mood, particularly in Lucy’s memories of her family in the final days before Emily vanished. But as great as her descriptions are, the novel’s true strength lies in her incredibly rich characterization and understanding of family dynamics as layers upon layers of lies and betrayal are slowly unveiled. We slowly begin to realize how and why a little girl going lost in the woods over sixty years ago can be key to one woman saving herself and her daughters today.
The Lost Girls