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What Was Lost    by Catherine O'Flynn order for
What Was Lost
by Catherine O'Flynn
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2008 (2008)

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* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn is about a lot of lost things lost love, lost relationships, lost time, lost self. Tying all of this together, however, is the story of a lost person a little ten-year-old girl named Kate Meaney who went missing in the 1980s.

Like many little girls, Kate likes to spend her time playing detective. However, she takes it much farther than most girls do, spending hours on various stakeouts with her stuffed monkey, Mickey. Her favorite place to watch for criminals is the new Green Oaks mall where she is sure there will one day be a big bank robbery. Unfortunately, the single crime that Kate is involved in is her own disappearance, which is never solved. The people who know her keep on living their lives, and twenty years later, Kate comes back to haunt them.

On her way to work one morning, Lisa (younger sister of the man accused of kidnapping Kate) finds a stuffed monkey in one of the service corridors at Green Oaks. Around the same time, Kurt (the Green Oaks night security man) sees a girl on the cameras, wandering the mall in the middle of the night and carrying a stuffed monkey. The incidents seem related and begin conjuring up memories for both adults: Lisa recalls the precocious little girl who used to hang out in her family's sweet shop; for Kurt, it is the memory of sighting the girl on a day he was skipping school and hanging out at Green Oaks a place forbidden to him. Together, Lisa and Kurt try to wade through their feelings and meaningless careers to find out what really happened to Kate Meaney all those years ago.

While O'Flynn has created a wonderful story with lifelike characters, she excels most in creating mood. The first part of the book, which takes place before Kate's disappearance, smoothly captures the wonders of childhood through Kate, complete with an unshakeable optimism in the face of whatever life throws at her. The bulk of the novel, however, is a bleak tale of adults stuck in their lives with seemingly no way out. However, when Lisa and Kurt do manage to shake the chains that have so far bound them, there is a hint of hope, although they know life will continue on with or without them.

What Was Lost is a wonderful read, and a book that begs to be discussed (thankfully, it contains a Reader's Guide just for this purpose). Catherine O'Flynn has made a stunning debut, showing great promise for works to come.

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