Book Review: Lost Girls by Merrie Destefano

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Yesterday, Rachel went to sleep listening to Taylor Swift, curled up in her grammy’s quilt, worrying about geometry. Today, she woke up in a ditch, bloodied, bruised, and missing a year of her life.

She doesn’t recognize the person she’s become: She’s popular. She wears nothing but black.

Black to cover the blood.

And she can fight.

Tell no one.

She’s not the only girl to go missing within the last year…but she’s the only girl to come back. She desperately wants to unravel what happened to her, to try and recover the rest of the Lost Girls.

But the more she discovers, the more her memories return. And as much as her new life scares her, it calls to her. Seductively. The good girl gone bad: sex, drugs, and raves, and something darker…something she still craves. The rush of the fight, the thrill of the win—something she can’t resist, that might still get her killed.

I downloaded Lost Girls by Merrie Destefano on a whim. I’m usually a “must have dragons or something speculative” reader, but Lost Girls came at me like a punch to the gut and never let up. This young adult crime noir definitely has the monsters, misfits, and mushy stuff that often defines my favorite reads, and I can easily put this on the recommendation shelf with my favorite speculative fiction. If a raw, gritty story with multi-layered characters, strong adults as well as teens, and a surprisingly sweet ending sounds good to you, then download this book!

Having a main character with amnesia is a tricky thing, because so much of their personality is being discovered as the story is going. That being said, Rachel is a well-written, tough-but-likable protagonist with believable strengths and weaknesses. The fact that she’s gone from wallflower to alpha is shown not just because of physical strength, but also because of a refreshing strength of heart. These days it seems like female characters get divided into “strong physically” or “strong emotionally” and set against each other. It was great to see a character who was strong in both ways, while still having a boatload of issues from her teenage maturity level and her life experiences.

Because this is a first person amnesia narrative, the plot and characters focus tightly around Rachel. However, Destefano still manages to develop the supporting characters in surprising ways. She also shows a lot more complexity in high school dynamics, instead of relying on stereotypes–if anything, this book sends up some of the stock roles that can still be found in young adult fiction. Also, a shout-out to the character of Dylan for both being a suitably sexy love interest while also having gray areas and issues that make him a danger as well as an ally.

Major bonus for me: showing different motivations behind fighting, as well as unflinchingly showing the positives and the negatives of the adrenaline rush. It’s tricky to capture the appeal of fighting for both genders, but Destefano does a great job, and also (minor spoiler, highlight to see): doesn’t “punish” the MC and her friends by having them inexplicably give it up afterwards. A desire to protect and aid physically isn’t a bad thing, and I was pleased that the author didn’t glorify the misuse of physical strength, but also noted the positive uses for combat (and still showed her character enjoying ballet).

Note: this is a hard PG-13 read that might drift to R for some readers if the cursing, sexual references, and descriptions of violence are an issue. However, none of it is gratuitous.

Final Verdict: the description “Black Swan meets Fight Club” fits this story very well. A fast-paced YA thriller with smart-yet-broken teens, capable adults, and an unflinching portrayal of character flaws and the results of hard choices. Call this one sour Skittles and super-dark bittersweet chocolate with a side of Red Bull.

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