Essential Maps for the Lost: Reviews « Deb Caletti
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Essential Maps for the Lost: Reviews

★ “Caletti (The Last Forever) returns with a lovely testament to human resiliency and true love. Mads Murray is staying with her aunt and uncle in Seattle while she pursues her realtor’s license in order to work with her mother. It’s not what Mads wants, but guilt and loyalty to her mother have trapped her, causing a spiral into depression. While swimming in Lake Union one morning, she discovers a body. Mads becomes fixated on the dead woman, Anna Youngwolf Floyd,and her son, Billy, who is destroyed by grief and finds comfort in the dogs that he “liberates” from unfit owners, the no-kill shelter where he works, and a map from E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. When Mads and Billy meet, they are smitten, but Mads is terrified to reveal that she’s the one who found his mother. Billy and Mads’s romance is tender and sweet, and Caletti’s lyrical, sometimes witty narration pulls readers close to both teenagers’ tangled emotions in a complex exploration of grief, mental illness, the redemptive power of storytelling, and the hope found in unexpected places.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

★ “Two teens meet under unusual and sorrowful circumstances, and together they learn that life is full of both joy and despair. During a morning swim, 18-year-old Mads Murray discovers a woman’s body floating in Seattle’s Lake Union. When the local news reveals the woman’s identity, Mads becomes obsessed with finding proof that Anna Youngwolf Floyd was more than a dead body, that she was a real person with connections to the world. Readers learn Anna’s depression drove her to jump off the Aurora Bridge, but Mads, who is no stranger to depression, doesn’t know that yet. Mads, in Seattle for the summer for an accelerated real estate course, is the only hope for the survival of her mentally ill mother’s business, a fact that fills her with dread.Desperate to know why someone would end her own life, she finds a way to meet Anna’s 19-year-old son, kindhearted dog-rescuer Billy, who’s ignorant of his connection to Mads. The novel treats depression for what it is: a sometimes-debilitating illness one can’t simply snap out of; it’s neither a personality flaw nor a shortcoming. Third-person limited perspective alternates between Mads and Billy, resulting in loads of dramatic irony, and Mads and Billy’s mutual love of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a sweet leitmotif. The gently chiding and honest narrative voice keeps its astute focus on the characters’ emotions and does not plumb the heritage implied by Anna’s name. A clear eyed story about love and loss, mental illness,and taking charge of one’s own fate.
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★ “The relationship between Mads and Billy, two teenagers thrown together by grisly fate and bound together over the course of the novel by love, echoes with a motif—a certain book beloved by them both: E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Having read the story of these two siblings who decide to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art after closing time is not essential, but it is helpful to understanding the book’s significance in their lives. Mads is a big reader; Billy has really only read this one book, which was special to his depressed mother, who left Billy reeling and living with his Gran after she jumped off a Seattle bridge. Mads struggles with depression herself even while she is living with her aunt and uncle to take an accelerated course to get her realtor’s license. She feels trapped and locked into the future her mother has dictated. The teen is swimming in a lake one spring morning when the corpse of a jumper bumps her. Mads tows Anna Youngwolf Floyd to shore and becomes obsessed with her and the son she left behind. As she and the dog-saving,rescue shelter–working gamer Billy come to know each other, Mads can’t tell him what brought her into his life. Caletti excels at focusing on the perspectives of both young people. Billy’s overwhelming and moving love for Mads will pluck the heartstrings of many readers. VERDICT Recommend this tale of overcoming the ogres of depression and loss with the saving graces of sustaining relationships and self-discovery.”
School Library Journal (starred review)

“High-school grad Madison Murray is living in Seattle with her uncle’s family while reluctantly taking a real-estate course to fast-track a partnership with her controlling mother back in Spokane. Swimming in Lake Union is a source of calm for her — until the morning she collides with the corpse of a woman who had jumped off a bridge. A traumatized obsession with finding “proof that Anna Youngwolf Floyd was a real human being” leads Mads to Anna’s teenage son Billy, who doesn’t know Mads’s connection to the tragedy. They prove to be kindred spirits in several ways. Mads’s single mother is both her best friend and an emotional drain; Billy’s only remaining family is his acerbic grandmother, whom he simultaneously loves unconditionally and blames for his mother’s depression. Mads fantasizes about stealing her babysitting charge from the child’s emotionally neglectful parents; Billy steals abused dogs and gives them better lives at the shelter where he works. Then there’s the teens’ connection to their (and Anna’s, it turns out) favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In heady, evocative present tense with occasional direct-address narration, chapters alternate between Mads’s and Billy’s perspectives. This is a powerful, sophisticated love story in which Caletti authoritatively probes the pain of loss, grief, and secrets as well as the idea of fate — those moments that are “too large a happening for mere coincidence.”
—KATRINA HEDEEN From the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine

Charting complex emotional territory
“’The way Mads and Billy Youngwolf Floyd met was horrible, hideous.’ While starting the day with a swim in a Seattle Lake, Madison Murray bumps against the body of a woman who ended her life by jumping off a bridge. After such a horrifying moment, how could anything get better? Just hang on for the beautiful parts, beseeches the omniscient narrator in the eloquently crafted Essential Maps for the Lost.

“Mads shouldn’t even be at the lake. She should be hanging out with friends back home instead of finishing up high school early, living with relatives and taking real estate courses to take over her narcissistic mother’s business. When she discovers that the body belongs to Billy’s mother, Mads has a new focus: finding out about this depressed woman and following her son.

“Billy, who plays his life like the video game ‘Night Worlds,’ has his own secrets, such as carrying the map from the children’s book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which his mother used to read to him. Together, Mads and Billy try to navigate through their losses—and, eventually, first love. But even love is hard when there isn’t a map.

“This seemingly quiet story becomes increasingly nuanced as Mads and Billy’s lives run parallel and intersect in shared dreams. This look at uncharted territories of the heart is a real find.”
BookPage review by Angela Leeper