BOOK REVIEW: One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
We run and scream, like there’s somewhere to go or someone to hear. Come to think of it, there might be someone. And if there is, we probably don’t want them to hear us.
Murder, justice, and revenge were so not a part of the plan when Sera set out on her senior camping trip. After all, hiking through the woods is supposed to be safe and uneventful.
Then one morning the group wakes up groggy, confused, and with words scrawled on their wrists: Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Their supplies? Destroyed. Half their group? Gone. Their chaperone? Unconscious. Worst of all, they find four dolls acting out a murder—dolls dressed just like them.
Suddenly it’s clear; they’re being hunted. And with the only positive word on her wrist, Sera falls under suspicion…
Lucas points at everyone but me. “The rest of our words are problems, Sera. We’re dismissed as defective. Whatever you want to call it.”
“Deceptive, Damaged, Dangerous.” He shakes his longish hair out of his eyes. “The three of us were found lacking, but you weren’t. Your word makes it sound like you’re chosen. Or special.”
So, from the outset it’s clear that this isn’t the most original idea for a novel. Undoubtedly scenes from countless suspense and slasher films and books spring to mind.
And yet, the book has some pretty good ratings online; some pretty positive reviews. There’s bound to be something about the writing that makes it worthwhile reading, no?
Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh. The book is fast-paced and easy enough to get through, so if you like that kind of thing and don’t much care about character development or stories that make sense, you’ll probably enjoy this.
But for this reader it was an eyeroll-palooza.
Sera is incredibly hung up on the fact that her mother ran away to be with a man who wasn’t Sera’s father. It’s fair enough for her to be hung up on it, but she goes on and on about it, and is convinced that if she ever lets herself feel anything for Lucas (spoiler: she does feel things for him), she will turn into her mother.
Let’s take a moment to look at the comparisons, shall we?
- One was a married woman who left her husband and young child, the other is a seventeen-year-old girl who is not in a relationship.
- They look similar to each other and are, of course, related.
That is all they have in common – or don’t, as it were – and yet the theme of “I can’t let myself get involved with him because then I will turn into my mother” feels as though it’s mentioned on every other page.
Maybe I can find a way to be with Lucas without feeding the part of me that is like my mother. Or maybe that part will grow like a cancer, quietly snagging bits and pieces of my organs, taking me over cell by cell until there’s nothing good left.
Beyond this frustrating repetition, Sera also doesn’t seem to understand how things in the world work.
“Mr. Walker?” My voice cracks and crumbles like dead leaves. I swallow hard and try again. “Mr. Walker?”
This time, I’m louder because his tent flap is closed. I don’t know if he’ll hear.
Makes stupid assumptions or conclusions.
I only cry a little. I hold the worst of it in, pressing my fist to my mouth and praying silently, though I’m not sure God will listen to a girl with an absentee mother and a D in biology.
And seems to put things in the “too hard” basket far too readily.
I spot the word on Jude’s arm, and I can’t help but press my fingers over the black letters on my own wrist. I wish I could scrub it off, but it’s Sharpie so I know better. I sported black x’s on my hands for a couple of weeks after a summer concert.
“It’s just stupid. Not worth talking about.”
“Oh.” Her tone implies things that never happened, but I can’t exactly correct her either because something did happen, even if it’s not what she’s thinking.
Some of these might fall into the author’s too hard basket, or she might have made some of these choices for the sake of poetic resolution, but in the end it leads to a book that doesn’t flow well, in which the dialogue is stilted and choppy and the characters’ motivations are not believable.
There are a few slip-ups in terms of the author forgetting what tense she’s writing in, and the overall resolution doesn’t make sense, again with the lack of believably in the motivations of the characters.
Then there’s the issue of the dolls.
At one point the characters discover a shallow hole, with bundles of sticks inside.
I lean closer, spotting the bundles of sticks. I think they’re tied together. Like they’re supposed to be something.
Upon closer inspection, the bundles are supposed to be dolls.
They’re arranged into torsos and limbs, little heads and scraps that might be clothing. Like voodoo dolls made from bits of trees.
The dolls are clearly meant to represent the four students, because different types of leaves that resemble their hair have been used to make hair for the dolls.
There are curling leaves on the head of the doll beside it – poplar leaves, I think. They remind me of Jude’s hair, and I don’t think that’s accidental, especially when I see the black moss and sharply slanted eyes on the doll that’s supposed to be Emily.
This last fact presents its own issue, because the characters discover soon after that they’re all missing hair. As in actual hair, from their actual heads, presumably taken before they discover the scene of dolls, presumably taken when they were drugged and became victims of graffiti by Sharpie. Their tormentor does use the hair for something else not so long after they find the dolls, but why couldn’t they have taken enough for both the dolls and the other thing?
But the biggest issue these dolls present is their progression from a bundle of sticks that she thinks are tied together and supposed to be something, to being so incredibly complex as to have facial expressions.
Lucas’s boots crunch as he walks closer. “No. They look like they’re worried about Sera. Because she’s the victim.”
Whoever put these dolls together didn’t do anything unintentionally. Doll-Jude and Doll-Lucas are looking down on my body. Doll-Emily is watching like it’s a movie.
And this in the rapidly failing light.
Overall this is a pretty quick read, and if you’re not a stickler for details, you may well enjoy it. But if you’ve seen enough of those suspense/slasher/survival movies, you’re bound to find little here to keep you on your toes.
“Things are different now,” he says. He never breaks my gaze, but when he nods, I nod back. This isn’t normal friendship. It’s stickier and darker, but I don’t think I’ll wash my hands of it either. It’s harder to wash away things once they’re buried this deep.
If only the book had had a little more of this kind of depth. I think it’ll be pretty easy to wash this one from my memory.
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