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


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.






Kent Russell Seeks the Soul of Florida on Epic Road Trip, on Foot

In a bit of drunken revelry, Kent Russell and his buddies decide it is their destiny to tell the gonzo story of Florida in the time when Trump is campaigning for president.


The 12 Best Brian Wilson Songs

From massive hits to obscure, experimental pop compositions, Brian Wilson's music is always thoughtful, idiosyncratic, and as thrilling today as it was in the 1960s.


Victoria Bailey's "Skid Row" Exemplifies the Bakersfield Sound (premiere + interview)

Victoria Bailey emerges with "Skid Row", a country romp that's an ode to an LA honky-tonk and the classic California Bakersfield sound.


Activism Starts at Home: A Conversation with S.G. Goodman

Folk rocker S.G. Goodman discusses changing hearts and minds in the rural American South, all while releasing her debut album in the middle of a global pandemic. Goodman is a rising artist to watch.


Shinichi Atobe's 'Yes' Sports an Appealing Electronic Eeriness

Despite its reverence for the roots of house music, an appealing eeriness blows through electronic producer Shinichi Atobe's Yes like a salty sea breeze.


Irmin Schmidt Meets John Cage on 'Nocturne'

Irmin Schmidt goes back to his Stockhausen roots with a new live album, Nocturne: Live at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.


Country's Corb Lund Finds the Absurd in 'Agricultural Tragic'

On Corb Lund's Agricultural Tragic, he sings of grizzly bears, tattoos, hunting rats and elk, the meaning of author Louis L'Amour's fiction, and the meaning of life.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

How Aaron Sorkin and U2 Can Soothe the Pandemic Mind

Like Aaron Sorkin, the veteran rock band U2 has been making ambitious, iconic art for decades—art that can be soaring but occasionally self-important. Sorkin and U2's work draws parallels in comfort and struggle.


Jockstrap's 'Wicked City' Is an Unfolding of Boundaries

On Wicked City, UK art-pop duo Jockstrap run through a gamut of styles and sounds, sometimes gracefully, sometimes forcefully, but always seductively.


Chewing the Fat: Rapper Fat Tony on His Latest Work From Hip-hop's Leftfield

Fat Tony proves a bright, young artist making waves amongst the new generation of hip-hop upstarts.


The Bobby Lees Strike the Punk-Blues Jugular on Jon Spencer-Produced 'Skin Suit'

The Bobby Lees' Skin Suit is oozing with sex, sweat and joyful abandon. It's a raucous ride from beginning to end. Cover to cover, this thing's got you by the short hairs.


'Perramus: The City and Oblivion' Depicts Argentina's Violent Anti-Communist Purge

Juan Sasturain and Alberto Breccia's graphic novel Peraramus: The City and Oblivion, is an absurd and existential odyssey of a political dissident who can't remember his name.


Daniel Avery's Versatility Is Spread Rather Thin on 'Love + Light'

Because it occasionally breaks new ground, Daniel Avery's Love + Light avoids being an afterthought from start to finish. The best moments here are generally the hardest-hitting ones.


Khruangbin Add Vocals But Keep the Funk on 'Mordechai'

Khruangbin's third album Mordechai is a showcase for their chemistry and musical chops.


Buscabulla Chronicle a Return to Puerto Rico in Chic Synthwave on 'Regresa'

Buscabulla's authenticity -- along with dynamite production chops and musicianship -- is irreplaceable, and it makes Regresa a truly soulful synthwave release.


The Cyclops and the Sunken Place: Narrative Control in 'Watchmen' and 'Get Out'

Hollywood is increasing Black representation but Damon Lindelof and Jordan Peele challenge audiences to question the authenticity of this system.

Featured: Top of Home Page

'Breathing Through the Wound' Will Leave You Gasping for Air

As dizzying as Víctor Del Árbol's philosophy of crime may appear, the layering of motifs in Breathing Through the Wound is vertiginous.


12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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