Heather Young is my twin sister in the world of Debut Novelists. Our books came out the same day–Tuesday, July 26, 2016, and both are novels of suspense. On the surface, one might think that was all we had in common. I’m writing a larger-than-life heist story of sexy urban fiction, while her book, THE LOST GIRLS, is a subtle, beautifully crafted thriller. But despite our differences, I fell in love with Heather’s book as a stellar example of feminist literature.
THE LOST GIRLS is a story of women. Mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and nieces. Heather’s plot is tight and urgent, with intense and simmering subtext. The book simultaneously careens toward unearthing old tragedies and fomenting new ones. The story is told in alternating voices of Lucy and Justine, great-aunt and great-niece. Lucy is near death and Justine is escaping a claustrophobic relationship with a controlling man whose passive aggressiveness may be downright dangerous.
On the surface, the plot moves slowly, but Heather’s storytelling is so vivid, and she sets up the tension so effectively, that the book is captivating from beginning to end. I read most of the book via an advance copy, but I “read” the end in audiobook format, which is my favorite way to enjoy a book these days. The audio recording features two readers–one for Lucy; one for Justine–and they are both stellar.
I claim the book as feminist literature because the story is a profound exploration and critique of isolation within the traditional male dominated nuclear family. It also looks at how women can reproduce that isolation and vulnerability to sexism, even if they don’t stay in long term partnerships or marriages with men. Through the three generations of the family, we see the lives of the women across a span of time from the 1930s to the turn of the millennium.
I write novels that pair strong feminist storytelling with an unmistakable romantic arc, yet I particularly appreciate THE LOST GIRLS as an exploration of the shadow side of romance. By definition, romances are optimistic and have a happily ever after ending. THE LOST GIRLS is deeply suspicious and skeptical about romance and marriage as it impacts the characters in the story, and yet I found the book’s ending really satisfying at the level of emotional truth for those characters.
And can we talk about the crafting and plotting of the suspense, twists, and clues? Heather is masterful from start to finish.
There’s so much else I would like to say, but to go any deeper into analysis of feminist storytelling would require spoilers. So I’ll have to leave you with this: THE LOST GIRLS is a stunning debut, and I can’t wait to see what Heather writes next.
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