I am breaking a trend – I just realized my last three books reviewed all had “dragon in the title. Here’s another book that I was really looking forward to this year. I first listened to it on my own in April, and am now listening to it with my daughter, who’s going into fifth grade, just like the main characters here. (We had enjoyed listening to Breadcrumbs earlier this year, my third time through the book.)
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu. Narrated by Kathleen McInerney. HarperAudio, 2019.
Iris and Lark are twins who are “identical but not the same.” Their family mythology tells how they have better outcomes together, with preemie baby Lark breathing better next to Iris, and baby Iris crying nonstop until Lark came home from the hospital somewhat later. They’ve grown up covering for each other since then, with fierce and organized Iris speaking up for Lark and more sensitive, artistic Lark helping Iris regulate her feelings and telling her when to let go of a fight.
This year – even though their father is working abroad and their mother newly working full time – it’s been decided that the twins will be in separate classrooms and after school activities for the first time ever. (This seemed a really poor parenting choice to me, but we have all seen worse fictional parents.) Iris is horribly afraid that she won’t be able to protect Lark, and also really unhappy about being made to join a club rather than being allowed to hang out at the library.
So Lark is in art club at school with a beloved teacher, while Iris has joined the Awesome Girls club at the library, run by a college student. Though she’s very resistant to it, the girls, a beautifully diverse mix, eventually come to be friends.
Meanwhile, our unnamed narrator is also telling us about a new store in town Treasure Hunters, and the cryptic messages that appear on its sign board, as well as its creepy owner, and many odd and seemingly unconnected events that happen around town.
I saw a lot of myself and my daughter in both Iris and Lark, and they seemed like the kind of creative and loyal kids you’d want to be friends with. I loved the descriptions of their doll house, which has been Lark’s ongoing creative project, and changes in which display Lark’s changing moods – especially the attic made to look like the surface of the moon, with a campfire for the dollhouse kids to roast marshmallows over. I also really enjoyed references to current children’s literature throughout, from Barnhill Elementary and Nurse Baptiste, to the Awesome Girls giving their counselor a lesson in the best recent female superheroes, including Ms. Marvel.
Like the twins, identical but not the same, this book has two themes that play off of each other. It is, as it appears from the beginning, the story of two sisters who are each others’ best friends being pushed to stand on their own. But the story that starts off mostly realistic with just a few odd happens gets increasingly darker and creepier, looking at the systemic way girls and women are encouraged to be quiet and pretty and just fit in, until it gets truly terrifying. This is definitely one of my favorite books of the year so far.