“Somewhere in the universe, a couple of stars collide. They aren’t fancy stars, or even ones with names. Just regular old stars. Two of millions. Still, just like that, some of the best things begin.”
There are plenty of sweet, romantic YA contemporary novels out there that focus on cute, fluffy relationships and all kinds of high school drama – none of them going very deep or having much substance to them. Essential Maps for the Lost offers something a little more than that.
Madison (or Mads, as everyone calls her) is spending summer away from her mother, who is trying to force her to become a part of her real-estate business, even though Mads would much rather go to college and find a career for herself that she actually wants. In order to make her mother happy, she agrees to stay with her aunt, uncle, and cousin during the summer while taking real-estate classes at the local college so she can come home and sign the paperwork making her a partner with her mom.
One morning, when out for a swim near her family’s house, Mads makes a shocking discovery: she runs into the body of a woman while swimming. Not really a great way to start the day.
From that point on, Mads becomes obsessed with the woman – Googling her, finding her home and investigating it, even learning that the woman had a son, Billy Youngwolf Floyd.
Billy, grieving for his mother and full of questions, has moved in with his grandmother after the death of his mother. He works at a local animal shelter, where he spends free time picking up strays or neglected and abused animals and brings them in, finding them good homes where they will be happy. But Billy himself is lost and confused. The only thing that makes him feel better and makes any sense is a map from a favorite book that he shared with his mother.
When Billy first notices Mads, he doesn’t think much of it – she was probably only dating one of the guys in the neighborhood of his old house – after all, why else would she be standing outside the house? But when he meets up with her at other random times, such as on a bridge, where he thinks she might be planning to jump, he eventually starts to wonder if perhaps they were supposed to know each other. Mads wonders the same thing, as her obsessions with the dead woman and her family continue. As the two of them start to build a relationship, it becomes harder for Mads to tell Billy exactly why they had met – because she was the girl who pulled his mother’s body out of the water.
What I liked most about this book was that it had a lot of substance to it. It was filled with deep, meaningful situations that stand out from traditional YA romance novels. Essential Maps for the Lost didn’t just focus on finding “the one” – it also focused on the self-discovery and figuring out who you really are and what you want from life.
Billy and Mads were both wonderful characters – they were full of depth and had really wonderful personalities. It was nice watching the two of them meet and slowly begin to develop feelings for each other over the course of the summer. I even loved Billy’s grandmother (she was a bit cranky, but in a way that you couldn’t help but love her character).
The pacing in the book is a little bit on the slow side, and I felt like there were a few chapters where not too much actually happened, though. I don’t usually mind slow pacing if the rest of the book is good, so it didn’t bother me all that much. The writing was beautiful and serene…I think this book would be perfect for summer reading…especially on a camping trip or something.
Essential Maps for the Lost is a touching novel, the kind that you find yourself reading long into the night full of hope for the main characters and their budding relationship.