I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
In the interest of full disclosure I will confess that I read the first two parts of this, skimmed most of the third and then jumped to the end to see if my guesses were correct. This review will contain some spoilers.
Lost Boy Found started off pretty strong with the disappearance of four-year-old Sonny Davenport. It’s 1913 in Louisiana and the wealthy Davenports are at their lake house. Sonny and his older brothers Paul and George are allowed to go off to explore in the woods by themselves for an afternoon but hours later Paul and George return alone. There follows two years of searching as the family falls apart.
Here again, (author) does quite well in depicting how Sonny’s disappearance affects the family. His father John Henry throws himself alternately into the search and then, as time goes by, into his work. Sonny’s mother Mary is the most affected, completely destroyed by the disappearance of her youngest child, alternately clinging to her remaining boys and unable to bear being around them.
We are also introduced to Tom, an ambitious reporter who follows the Davenport case closely and insinuates himself into their lives to get a better scoop. At the beginning of the story Tom is likeable and realistic. He sympathizes with the Davenports and seems to feel genuinely sorry for them even as he recognizes that this story could make his career. He balances his friendship with them and his career goals in a realistic and empathetic way. As the story progresses though, he becomes more of a caricature, a heartless and ambitious reporter, interested only in the story. (Which honestly had me wondering why he never seemed to do any reporting on any other news.)
In fact, this seems to happen to all of the characters. Two years after Sonny’s disappearance, a mute boy the same age is found travelling with a tramp. The reader knows right away that this isn’t Sonny. We’ve just been introduced to Grace Mills, a young servant woman, and her son Ned. From the back of the book I knew that there would be two women claiming to be the lost boy’s mother; I expected that the story would contain more ambiguity as to who was correct. Unfortunately, the book holds none of this. When introduced to the boy (I’m going to call him Ned because that’s who he is), Mary knows almost immediately that this isn’t her son. Paul and George know this isn’t their brother. Their housekeeper Esmerelda knows this isn’t Sonny. Instead, Mary and John Henry seemingly decide to just take this boy home and use him to fill the missing spot in their lives. Even though there is another woman claiming him as her own.
This is where I started skimming. Up until this point, my sympathies were with John Henry and Mary, living through every parents’ worst nightmare. But from here they simply turned into villains, people willing to use their wealth and influence to literally steal a child. While I can’t say how I would act in this situation, I can’t imagine that I would be satisfied to simply claim a child that wasn’t mine.
What’s even more boggling is that there are so many other people willing to go along with this scam. The novel does do a decent job at highlighting the class divisions of the time and place. Grace is poor and unmarried and doesn’t have the resources the Davenports do to fight this battle over Ned. Esmerelda recognizes the truth about the boy but as a black woman and a servant has very little authority or voice.
In the end, I think what frustrated me most was that I was enjoying the novel until Ned appeared and the characters devolved into stereotypes. There are the inklings of a much stronger story here but unfortunately it’s not quite there.