Just finished: “Lost and Found”

reviewed for the Mother-talk.com Blog Tour
(due to be posted on Wednesday 7/18, but I’m done early!)

Lost and Found
Carolyn Parkhurst (author’s website)

Lost and Found revolves around a reality TV show of the same name that features a dozen teams competing in a worldwide scavenger hunt with a million-dollar prize. Like The Amazing Race (TAR), each of the teams is made up of two people with a pre-existing relationship. The book starts about halfway through the race, so some teams have already been eliminated, and like on Survivor, the teams are about to be shaken up.

Each chapter is narrated by a different character; in some cases, both members of a team will get to talk, so you get two perspectives on their experience of the game, and in other cases, one or both of the team members are primarily supporting, non-narrating characters. The last six teams in the game are:

Laura and Cassie: a widowed mother and her teenage daughter, who have recently been through a crisis that has stirred things up between them, and have a lot that they need to talk about – but aren’t

Carl and Jeff: brothers from Boston, both divorced, one with a class-clown personality and one with a sickly three-year-old son back home

Abby and Justin: married, fundamentalist Christians, both “ex-gays” trying to make it work on the other side (OK, I’ll say it – they’re “going straight”)

Juliet and Dallas: both former child TV stars trying to get back in the limelight

Riley and Trent: best friends and millionaire entrepreneurs, they’re not in it for the money

Betsy and Jason: former high-school sweethearts, recently reunited

Of course, each team was chosen with the producers’ eye on the potential for personal drama as well as a good competition, and they have chosen well. Teenage Cassie has recently given up a baby for adoption, after a pregnancy that somehow completely eluded her mother’s notice, and that’s not the only thing she hasn’t told Laura about. Justin and Abby are well aware of the public scrutiny they are under as recent “converts” from the gay and lesbian life – can they really change their orientations? can they make a marriage work with all that baggage? – but they both have private issues that need to be looked at a little closer too. Juliet is as self-involved, manipulative, and insecure as one might expect of a former child actress hoping to turn this TV exposure into a comeback, Carl’s a nice guy without much of an agenda, and both of them are challenged by their less-than-brilliant teammates.

The mechanics of the competition will be familiar to reality-show viewers, especially fans of TAR – the clues, the tasks that need to be completed, the jockeying for tickets on the earliest flights and seats in the fastest driver’s taxicab, the strategizing – all the elements we see when we tune in. But there’s plenty of the behind-the-scenes stuff we wonder about too, as very little of the contestants’ lives during the course of the game takes place without a cameraman and sound tech right alongside, and every contestant is aware that all of this footage will be edited and re-shaped by the program’s producers to create the story and characters that they want to show…but sometimes they forget to think about what they might end up looking like on TV and just have to be themselves.

The twists and turns of a reality-TV competition are a great plot framework and provide built-in suspense. Parkhurst uses that framework very well as a vehicle for revealing and developing her characters. She’s also successful in creating individual voices and viewpoints for each of her seven narrators, of whom I found Cassie the most honest, Laura the most relatable (and somewhat exasperating), and Justin the most irritating and least self-aware (and not a good match for Abby, who is pretty much the opposite).

Parkhurst, who also authored The Dogs of Babel, has a high level of pop-cultural literacy, and her advisors and resources in researching this book include past winners of both TAR (Zach Behr) and Survivor (Shii Ann Huang) (I read the acknowledgements, too)…and if you’re going to use reality TV as the basis for a novel, those two shows are the best source material you can find. I’ve been a dedicated TAR fan for several years, and the parallels in this book have made me eager to read it since the original reviews of it came out. I don’t think you have to be a reality-TV viewer to read and like this book, but I think it would help and contribute to your appreciation of it. I was drawn into and held by the story, I liked the writing, and I’ll be recommending this one to friends, whether they’re Survivor/TAR fans or not.

“Cherann” rating: 4.5/5

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