By: John Connolly
Publication: November 2006
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Fiction, World War II era, Supernatural, Fairy tales
John Connolly’s young adult novel The Book of Lost Things mixes fairy tale tropes and characters with a World War II setting that sets the stage for the story of David, a young boy living in London with his father, stepmother, and younger half-brother. Lost and confused after the death of his mother, David wanders into another world inhabited by fairy tales that have been altered for the worse. David must find the King and use his Book of Lost Things to find his way back home. On the way, David works with other characters to defeat the twisted Loups that inhabit the forest and outwit the evil Crooked Man, who has nefarious plans for David’s younger brother.
Much of Connolly’s work is filled with research and references to many famous places, tales, and times, which adds to the story’s fascination as a combination of several genres. With this novel, Connolly made a departure from his previous crime and thriller novels with his first foray into the young adult genre. In keeping with the supernatural element in his adult Charlie Parker series, he plays on the darker elements of classic fairy tales and mythological figures in order to create a beautifully written coming-of-age novel where the young hero must face the fears of his childhood in order to become a mature adult. Connolly reinvents several stories such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumplestiltskin, and even a few Greek myths to create a beautiful and sinister alternate universe. While these characters are pulled directly from the childhood favorites on David’s book shelf, they are twisted into much more sinister beings due to the corruption caused by The Crooked Man and influenced by David’s fears.
One of the obstacles keeping David from recovering after his mother’s death is his obsessive-compulsive disorder, which David calls his “routines”, comprised of a series of superstitious practices he made in an attempt to keep his mother alive. David uses these routines even after his mother’s death and secludes himself in the stories she loved in order to separate himself from his stepmother and stepbrother. The turmoil in David’s fairy tale world reflects not only his worries about his place in a family with a new younger sibling, but also the dangers that his family faces in London during World War II. What leads David to this fairy tale world in the first place is a German bomber falling into his garden, and the forest people even try to use a tank to defeat a monster terrorizing their village.
Truly, what makes The Book of Lost Things such a compelling read is the narrator’s voice. This novel follows in the tradition of The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti and In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente, where the age of the protagonist does not necessarily dictate the audience, which lends a greater appreciation for how aptly Connolly presents the horrors David must face in reality and outside of it. The book starts like a fairy tale, and progresses from the simple and fragmented thought processes of a child to the more complicated sentence structure of an adult. Connolly is able to mix dark humor and frightening elements to create a truly wonderful story of a young boy’s journey to grow up with compassion and wisdom fit for a king.