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“But at that moment, it’s hard not to believe that the three of them were meant to meet.” With writing like this, it’s not hard to believe that Gayle Forman’s “I Have Lost My Way” is another Young Adult novel about teens who accidentally run into each other and solve each other’s problems. Freya, a singer who has lost her voice, falls off a bridge in the park onto Nathaniel, who has just arrived in New York City. Freya and bystander Harun, a gay teen who has not come out to his Muslim family, take Nathaniel to the hospital, commencing their magical day of resolving each others’ issues. Although Forman has done notable job creating diverse and believable characters, the plot fluctuates between YA cliché tropes and moments that make little to no sense.
Her cast of characters encompasses a broad range of ethnicities and experiences. Freya is half-American and half-Ethiopian, and Forman takes particular care to include melodies in Freya’s music that she explicitly describes as Ethiopian and mentions that some of the foods Freya eats are Ethiopian foods such as “shiro,” “injera,” and “tibs.” Forman also dives into how her non-white characters experience the world, like when Freya says that “[s]he’s often followed [in stores], and she is never sure if it’s because she’s half-famous or half-black.” Forman incorporates Muslim prayers and sayings in Harun and his family members’ conversations. Nathaniel is raised by his father, who suffers from an unnamed mental disorder that leads to manic episodes, and Forman articulately describes the effects this has on Nathaniel. For what it is worth, Forman makes sure that her characters aren’t overgeneralizations or stereotypes of the diverse backgrounds they come from.
The story itself is fluff, pure and simple. Three strangers meet unexpectedly, and by the end of the day they have inspired each other to face their fears. The narrative is peppered with saccharine language that YA novels are often accused of having: “She’d go skydiving if he asked, and she’s terrified of heights.” These sentences elicit an eyeroll and show the lack of maturity of the book. While there is nothing inherently wrong with a book that is all fuzzy feelings and happy endings, these poorly written sentences—that become most common in crucial moments—ruin the novel.
The beginning makes little sense. This scene is confusing and is told from the point of view of all three main characters. Although the inclusion of multiple perspectives adds depth at other moments, Forman has yet to master these viewpoints in a single action scene. In fact, she overuses this tactic and switches the point of view much too often, sometimes barely giving a character the space to react before moving onto another. The changes are disorienting and counteract many of the benefits that should stem from having so many perspectives represented.
Overall, “I Have Lost My Way” epitomizes the clichés and shortcomings of YA literature, with corny lines and unrealistic events.
—Staff writer Caroline E. Tew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter at @caroline_tew
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