Books

A Bookish Teenager Finds Herself in Laura Taylor Namey’s 'Library of Lost Things'

In Laura Taylor Namey's Library of Lost Things, teens find security and significance in themselves as works in progress.

The Library of Lost Things
Laura Taylor Namey

Inkyard Press

October 2019

Other

With allusions to canonical romantic texts like Much Ado About Nothing and Pride and Prejudice and homages to more recent YA successes like John Green's Looking for Alaska (Dutton Juvenile, 2005) and Nicola Yoon's Everything, Everything (Delacorte Books, 2015) there's much to be found in Laura Taylor Namey's debut, Library of Lost Things (2019).

This relatable, well-paced novel offers up the story of a young woman forced to revise her core relationships and re-write herself from a reclusive caretaker of her hoarder mother to sentient actor in her own life. She has to learn to make herself able to love without shame.

Contrasted with the sunny San Diego setting and the tittering banter she shares with her bestie, Darcy Wells ekes-out a tense existence in the shadow of her mother's addiction to material objects:

"Every day since my seventh birthday, that first shock of reality followed me into my apartment…The smells struck hard—cardboard and plastic, the tangy rubber of new sneakers. Throat-itching dust I could never clean fast enough. I smelled something new since this morning when I left for school. Dry dog food? A bag must've ripped open, one of maybe five stacked against the wall. They'd been on sale last week at a huge markdown, so naturally, she had to buy them.

Except…we didn't have a dog" (17)

Namey dunks us into Darcy's mother's compulsive mindset for just long enough to impart the claustrophobia Darcy's had to endure. To maintain a sense of control, Darcy immerses herself in the safety of literature, learning from classic stories how to navigate social contexts and, on occasion, to deceive.

But like the stacks of assorted China her mother keeps, Darcy's precarious world is susceptible to tremors from minor incidents. A new busy-bodied apartment manager is snooping around their carefully secured unit, sure to evict them were he to discover the rats-nest of junk heaped inside. Meanwhile, unpaid bills are piling up and Darcy's grandmother intrudes as a conditional benefactor.

Rescuing Darcy from these dour circumstances is Darcy's feisty BFF, Marisol—Latina fashionista and comic relief. With almost diurnal regularity, Marisol wrenches Darcy free from her mother's suffocating apartment. Accompanying Marisol on her capers eventually lands Darcy in a situation in which she must either demure or step into the limelight to display her talents.

If this quandary wasn't enough, Darcy's tranquil bookstore job is compromised by Asher, a beautifully broken boy, one year her senior, who's taken an interest in her. Though Asher is technically spoken for by the class gossip queen, he spotlights attention on Darcy. His affections, along with the opportunities presented through Marisol, demand Darcy to reconsider her survival strategy of merely reading exciting stories.

With the romance and friendship arcs as needles, Namey skillfully sews Darcy's character into full realization. The novel seams together elements from YA and Chick-lit genres and does so in tight chapters, each with a catchy subtitle and clever epigraph which anticipate the chapter's action.

Midway through the book, a character begins commenting on a text Darcy is reading, adding situational intrigue and revealing Namey's admirable narratorial control as well as her characters' depth. The thorny potential words have in these teenagers' lives, along with how quotidian occurrences can rattle us out of complaisance, make the novel a life-like enough space to get lost in.

Unfortunately, the work falls prey to certain genre trappings: campy dialogue, disengagement from physical and historical setting, an over-abundance of self-congratulatory winks between characters, and side characters who try to charm, but occasionally annoy. Marisol, "shaped like a flame" (15), is a dazzling live-wire on each page, but at times she's too solicitous and sparkly with on-the-fly brilliance.

Asher, for his part, is implausibly gallant as a 19-year-old. In general, Namey's teens are inexplicably decorous; chaste yet chic in a way that smacks of over-stylization. Furthermore, the titillating romance between these beautiful, intelligent teenagers is often overdone. Perhaps a bigger critique would be in how the core conflict between the mentally ill mother and conflicted daughter is interrupted by the romance and friendship subplots.

Ultimately though, Namey winds everything back to Darcy's relationship with her mother. Throughout the novel filled with young people sharing happy moments, the mother character lurks in a backroom like Rochester's wife in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. An erroneous critique would label the mother character as vapid, but Andrea Wells is necessarily diminutive, as she's buried her once vibrant personality beneath her expanding pile of things, rendering her a mere shade.

In contrast, Darcy approaches her penultimate rite of passage using her greatest asset: her penchant for the beautiful language of literature. But as the story arches towards its climax, the written word, Darcy's Excalibur, loses its sharpness and she must proceed into deeper relationships with others and her mother. Her only protection is truth of who she really is. The end effect is surprising and poignant as Darcy starts acting as her own main character under her own direction to reshape her story into one she can live with.

What's more, Library of Lost Things uses mental illness in a family member as more than just a plot mover, but as a force akin to literature: a reflector on human frailty and resilience. In doing so, the book is an invitation to make room in our lives for surprises in ourselves and those we try to love.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.