In her grief over her husband’s death, Millie’s mother abandons her 7-year-old in a department store and never returns. Millie soon meets 87-year-old Karl, who has escaped from a nursing home, and 82-year-old Agatha, a recluse who hasn’t left her home since her husband died. The three of them team up and set out on a road trip to find Millie’s mother.
I knew Lost & Found was going to be a tough read as soon as I read that premise. It was also, as the back of my review copy perfectly summarizes, “an irresistible and heartfelt debut novel about the wisdom of the very young, the mischief of the very old, and the magic that happens along the way.” Karl reminded me of Allan in The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared; as did Agatha, actually. The two books share that slightly unbelievable sense of adventure — just unbelievable enough to be delightful. Toward the end of the book, the interaction between Karl and Agatha became a teensy bit too cute (maybe even contrived) for my taste, but there was always a sweet, slightly awkward air between them.
The issues these characters are dealing with (loss, grief, aging, quality of life) is almost suffocating at times. Yet there’s a lightness present in this book, too. Davis uses these characters to remind us that the darkness of our problems can consume us, but it doesn’t have to. That grief and happiness aren’t mutually exclusive. Millie is the perfect protagonist for this novel; her age, the way she behaves and reacts, the way she sees the world, gives the adults around her (and we readers) an opportunity to explore uncomfortable feelings and questions. Millie forces us to face our discomfort by doing and saying things we restrain ourselves from, or completely avoid. At the same time, there were many, many opportunities to laugh while reading this book. That felt strange. . .it also felt honest and cathartic.
Lost & Found is crushing. It’s funny. It’s sweet. It’s devastating. It’s perceptive and thought-provoking. It has the potential to make us more sensitive to what others may be going through, and it helps us look inward to deal with difficult topics we all eventually face.