The Lost Children
When I was around 10, I went through a phase of reading ghost stories. These stories involved severed limbs, unexplained phenomena and lots of things that went bump in the night, but avoided the true horror and nightmare-inducing potential of someone like Stephen King or Dean Koontz. When I read Carolyn Cohagan’s debut novel, THE LOST CHILDREN, I knew it was exactly the kind of book I would have relished as a 10-year-old: creepy yet comforting at the same time, a book that sends chills down your spine but also reminds you, in the time it would take you to heat up some hot cocoa or put on a sweater, that things are probably going to be okay after all.
Josephine Russing is a lonely child; the only evidence she has that her wealthy father knows she exists is that he gives her a new pair of gloves every single week, apparently as a token of his affection (or at least attention). Mr. Russing is a glove magnate who has managed to pass legislation that everyone in their town must wear gloves at all times. This law is profitable for him, to be sure, but a major annoyance for everyone else, and a painful reminder to Josephine of the “hands-off” relationship she has with him.
More than anything, Josephine wants siblings. So when a mute boy named Fargus suddenly appears in her backyard shed, bearing a seemingly empty suitcase that actually holds a photograph of Josephine surrounded by a large, loving family, Josephine is puzzled and intrigued. As for Fargus, he returns to his own land of Gulm, convinced he’ll never see Josephine again. That is, until she happens upon the same crack between their worlds --- and lands in a bizarre nightmare place.
Fargus and his plucky friend, Ida, are residents (or inmates) at the Higgins Institute for Wayward Children and Forsaken Youth, where they’ve lived for years, for their own protection (or so everyone says). The land around the Institute is plagued by fear, as hideous monsters patrol the lands in service to the nameless Master who rules the place and who seems to have instituted horrific policies for some kind of nefarious purpose. What happens to the children in this place? And why does everyone seem to know and fear Josephine’s father, when he clearly has nothing to do with this world?
At times, THE LOST CHILDREN can feel as disorienting as the children’s own adventures, as the three new friends come together and are thrust apart again suddenly, often into puzzling or confusing situations. But this off-kilter atmosphere is part of the book’s subtle charm, and one of the reasons it’s largely successful as a fantasy/suspense novel. Readers will feel like they’re traveling with Josephine, Fargus and Ida as they overcome their own confusion to solve the puzzle of what’s happening to the missing children. Along the way, there are some eerie, even mildly horrifying vignettes, as well as a major plot revelation that is spine-tingling enough. But nothing ever crosses the line from deliciously creepy to truly terrifying. That’s what makes this debut novel the kind of book that will appeal to preteens pushing the boundaries of their own comfort levels --- and discovering a great story to enjoy at the same time.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 8, 2011
The Lost Children
- Publication Date: February 8, 2011
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Aladdin
- ISBN-10: 1416986170
- ISBN-13: 9781416986171