Lost by Ele Fountain
I was a huge fan of Ele Fountain’s first book, Boy 87 (a hugely under-rated upper-MG must-read if you ask me) so I was really excited about this.
We meet Lola as she searches for her brother, Amit, after they’ve become separated having suddenly found themselves homeless – street rats.
I really loved the way the book then looked back at their lives prior to this, cleverly highlighting the contrast between two very different worlds nestled side by side.
Previously, Lola and Amit were rich, comfortable and almost blind to the struggles of the less well off around them – a striking difference to the scared, starving and vulnerable children we see now facing hunger, fatigue, and police brutality amongst other things.
Their sense of entitlement and ignorance is at least marginally better than the active dislike, disapproval and superiority of their friends whose callous comments and unfeeling attitudes and actions are shocking but sadly believable.
We then follow Lola into the present, a flawed but very likeable character who I really rooted for and felt for as she desperately tried to do the right thing and take care of her brother with no real-world knowledge whatsoever.
And this is another element I thought was excellent about the book – the way it shows just how easily and suddenly homelessness can hit, how it can happen to anyone and how it’s not “their fault” through laziness or similar.
As she searches for Amit, we see her eyes gradually opened to the hardship that’s been around them all along and, perhaps even more importantly, the various reasons that led the children to be on the streets.
Through Lola we meet several “street rats” – sleeping in tunnels, working long days for pennies and no recognition, being chased away, beaten or recruited by gangs.
One of whom, Rafi, though prickly at first gradually allows Lola to get closer and helps her develop some street smarts and look for Amit. I thought he was a brilliant character and liked the way his friendship with Lola developed.
Because of this I both absolutely loved, but also inwardly cried “noooo!” at the ending! It was just right.
It’s great to see characters who grow and change their mindset as they learn more over the course of the book, though sad to see how shuttered, cruel and ignorant others choose to remain.
Highlighting the sadly all-too prevalent issues of child poverty and homelessness, this would be a great book for opening up discussion about these issues – both in the context of the book and more locally.
Overall, this is a brilliant and important book, both heartbreaking and heartwarming in turn. With a fantastic sense of place, important issues and well-drawn characters and relationships, it more than lived up to my expectations.