The world of the old tales existed parallel to ours, as David’s mother had once told him, but sometimes the wall separating the two became so thin and brittle that the two worlds started to blend into each other.
That was when the trouble started.
That was when the bad things came.
That was when the Crooked Man began to appear to David.
The Book of Lost Things begins with the death of a loved one. Twelve-year-old David has just lost his beloved mother. To escape his grief, he takes refuge in books, particularly the ones his mother loved as a girl, full of folktales, fairytales, and myths. It is around this time that David begins to hear whispers coming from the books, softly at first, then louder and clearer as time goes by.
Not long after, David’s father becomes involved with woman named Rose, whom he soon marries and quickly produces another son with. Resentful and unhappy, David tries to cope with all the changes, but is finding it hard to accept his new stepmother and his new stepbrother into his life. Then one night, after a terrible row with Rose, David hears the voice of his mother calling out to him from the garden. Through a gap in a crumbling wall, David suddenly finds himself thrust into a strange new world, where the familiar stories from his books are more real than he’d ever imagined. But there are terrible dangers lurking in the shadows of this fairytale realm, from blood-thirsty wolf creatures, to cold-hearted huntresses, to giant worm beasts. Unable to go back the way he came, David must navigate his way through this perilous land and seek out its fading king, whose mysterious book may contain the knowledge and, quite possibly, the magic to send him home. But watching and waiting in the shadows is the Crooked Man, an enigmatic and sinister being who promises to make everything right in David’s life, but not without a price.
If you enjoy retellings of classic fairytales and folklore, then The Book of Lost Things is right up your alley. But be forewarned: this book gets plenty dark and scary. At the beginning, I thought I was going to read a YA fantasy not unlike, oh, let’s say The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. The book’s premise really appealed to me, and I like that the author, John Connelly, also writes thriller/crime novels. It made me assume that since this book was marketed with the YA readers in mind, it would rate like a PG-13 film. I wasn’t prepared for just how harrowing and harsh David’s journey was going to be. Think Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman meets Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.
The characters that populate the land of ‘Elsewhere’, as David calls it, are familiar, pulled from classic fairytales that we as children were raised on. In Elsewhere, the same fairytales exist, but not as we know them. In a variant of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, Red Riding Hood lay willingly with the wolf and together they spawn a race of man-wolves called Loups, with their leader, Leroi serving as the story’s secondary villain. In another bit, serving as the story’s only comic relief are the communist-leaning Seven Dwarves, who, because of some legal kerfuffle are forced to support an overindulged Snow White. They only feature in two short chapters, but amid all the grim and gloom, their scenes are seriously hilarious, and reminiscent of Monty Python.
Now, is The Book of Lost Things appropriate for young adults? Big ole NO, but I doubt that’ll stop any determined young adult under the age of fifteen from reading it. Dark subject matter and horror aside, it is one of the most memorable and amazing coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read, superbly original and very poignant. The edition that I got from the library is the special anniversary edition that features an afterword from author John Connelly, two short stories in the Elsewhere-verse, and notes on the various fairytales and folklore used in the book, all good stuff worth checking out.