Though the premise outlined above may sound grim, Essential Maps for the Lost by Deb Caletti is buoyed by hope: hope for better days, hope for positive change. The story is led by two characters who struggle to take control over their own lives while they search for reasons or answers related to recent events. Written in third person, the book flips back and forth between Billy and Mads, allowing the reader to see both perspectives - which is especially interesting when they are in the same scene and readers are privy to both characters' thoughts. Furthermore, it shows us how the characters see themselves versus how others see them. The narrative also permits a cool omniscient element, with occasional phrases directing the reader's attention to something - almost like a finger pointing, "Look there," "Remember this moment later" - that are more like gentle nudges than pushy wink-wink moments.
Billy and Mads, both post-high school and both innate caretakers, have found jobs they love: Billy works at a no-kill animal shelter and literally rescues dogs, while Mads babysits a baby girl that she wishes she could protect from the world. But neither of them are happy at home. Billy now lives with his grandmother, a woman full of cruel remarks and judgements about her late daughter, while Mads is staying with her aunt, uncle, and cousin for the summer while she takes real estate classes at Bellevue Community College - all part of her mother's plan for Mads to become her working partner the second she passes the licensing exam.
But once Mads and Billy meet, once their lives collide, their futures change. Or is it that their options change, and their true futures reveal themselves? It is not easy to alleviate the burdens of the abandoned or create a map for the lost. It takes courage to face the ogres of depression and loss. With strength of spirit combined with gut instincts and personal truths, Mads and Billy find their way out of the deep and onto their next journey.
My favorite quotes from the book include:
It's dangerous to hope like this. Already, there's a little flame of it, and he wants to cup his hands around it so it doesn't blow out. - Pages 104-105
This is no coincidence. It's about as much of a coincidence as her seeing him at his own house. See? There's fate, and there's agency, dancing together beautifully, like a couple in sequined costumes. - Page 129
Claire's eyes send a message that begs for honesty... Now those eyes are having the midnight showing of the mess that will be Mads's future. - Page 157
It's another reason he believes in her. She'll rescue herself because she kisses back, she lets love in, and love is one of the only weapons that has half a chance in the dark. - Page 214
This review was cross-posted at GuysLitWire.
Check out my reviews of other Deb Caletti novels, including The Nature of Jade and The Queen of Everything.