Thursday, December 12, 2019

Nonfiction Review: Lost Child

After reading an intriguing review of Lost Child: The True Story of a Girl Who Couldn't Ask for Help by Torey Hayden on Helen's Book Blog, I added it to my list for Nonfiction November. I listened to it on audio last month and was engrossed by the fascinating story.

Torey Hayden is an educational psychologist and special education teacher who has written previous books about her work, each essentially a case study of a child or children in extraordinary circumstances. Here, in her first book in fifteen years, Torey describes a little girl she met while volunteering for a social services organization in Wales. The child, known here as Jessie, is considered a difficult case, tucked away in a group home at the age of ten. Her parents say they can't manage her, but she has been left on her own since a very young age, with little parental involvement. Her records are full of problems, including lying, outbursts, impulsiveness, and even violence. As Torey begins meeting with Jessie each week, she tries to get to the bottom of her antisocial behaviors, but Jessie is tough to figure out, especially since she is prone to both lying and manipulation. Their sessions, aided by games, drawing paper, and intricate puppets that Jessie loves, are filled with sharp contrasts, Jessie seeking affection one moment, having a violent outburst the next, and even describing sexual things that no 10-year-old should know. When Jessie makes a stunning accusation against an adult at the home--one of Torey's colleagues--Torey doesn't know what to believe, but she never gives up on Torey. Eventually, slowly and gradually, she discovers the shocking truth at the center of Jessie's behavior, through compassion and patience.

This was a fascinating, engaging case study. Although some of the subject matter is difficult, it is all told from Torey's perspective as she lovingly supports Jessie and works to get to know her better. Despite all her problems, it is clear that Jessie does have some redeeming qualities and is desperate for acceptance and unconditional love, which Torey provides (so there is a satisfying ending). My one minor quibble was with the audio production. Torey Hayden is American, and this is a memoir written in the first-person ("I"). But they used a British narrator, which felt discordant to me at times. True, most of the other characters are Welsh, but it still sounded odd to hear sentences like, "I was born in America and grew up in Montana," spoken in a British accent! Like I said, just a minor annoyance. Overall, the story kept me captivated from beginning to end, and I was rooting for Tory to be able to get through to Jessie and figure things out. It feels like Jessie's story is an unusual one, but I see that Torey has written nine other similar case-study memoirs about other children. I'm glad there are dedicated, caring professionals out there like Torey and her colleagues with the patience and skill to help these lost children.

352 pages, William Morrow Paperbacks

Listen to a sample of the audio book or download it from Audible.

You can purchase Lost Child from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
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Or you can order Lost Child from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. That's weird that the narrators had British accents for an American narrator. Glad you liked the book!

    1. I know, right? It probably shouldn't have bothered me so much but it did! I suppose the audio producers figured everyone except the narrator was Welsh.