Friday, June 02, 2023

Fiction Review: The Book of Lost Friends

My book group's selection for May was The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate. We all enjoyed her previous novel, Before We Were Yours, and I think this one was an even bigger hit (we rated it 8.2 out of 10)! Like that earlier novel, this was also historical fiction, featuring two separate narratives in different time periods, anchored by a fascinating little-known bit of history.

In 1863, six-year-old Hannie is frightened as her master's son, whose father asked him to see them all moved safely to Texas, instead sells off Hannie's family along the way. In stop after stop, she sees each of her siblings, her aunt, her little cousin, and finally her mother sold off and taken away. After the war is over, Hannie is the only one from her family who is returned to the Gossett plantation in Augustine, Louisiana, and transformed from slave into sharecropper, along with a handful of others still left there. In 1875, they are approaching their 10th sharecropping year, when they will finally own their own land. Hannie overhears a conversation between Lavinia, the Little Missy of the plantation, and her Creole half-sister, Juneau Jane. It seems that Mr. Gossett had a mistress in New Orleans and another daughter Lavinia's age. Now, when the two girls set off on a mutual journey to find their father's lawyer and protect their inheritance, Hannie secretly accompanies them, hoping to find the sharecropping contract to prove their right to the land. The three teen girls are on a dangerous mission that takes them into Texas, among outlaws and vigilantes. It also reignites Hannie's longing to find her family, when she discovers the Lost Friends column in a church newspaper distributed throughout the south.

In alternating chapters, first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, aka Benny, moves to Augustine in 1987. She's been assigned to teach English at the local high school, and her only previous experience was student teaching at a well-off suburban high school in the East. When she discovers there are no books for the English classes and a student almost faints from hunger on her first day, Benny realizes this is going to be far more difficult than she first thought. Benny begins to get to know the people in town, including the well-respected Granny T, who runs the Cluck and Oink BBQ joint, and Nathan Gossett, the reluctant heir to all that is left of the Gossett plantation, including its beautiful library filled with books. Benny gets the idea to engage her students in reading and writing by researching their own families' histories, though the town doesn't like new ideas ... or stirring up old wounds.

Often in a book with two separate narratives like this, you find yourself preferring one over the other, but I was equally engrossed in both the 1875 and 1987 stories and rooting for both Hannie and Benny to succeed in their quests. Each set of chapters begins with a copy of a Lost Friends column, and some of them are echoed in the narrative, with familiar names popping up. Hannie's story is filled with action, adventure, and loss, while Benny's story is one of isolation, a desire to help, and becoming part of a community. The two narratives come together beautifully at the end, just as I'd hoped they would. I both read the book in print and listened to it on audio, which worked out wonderfully; I got to see the Lost Friends' columns reprinted and also listen to the multiple excellent audio narrators. It's a compelling, engaging novel, filled with fascinating historical detail and memorable characters that I never wanted to leave.

375 pages, Ballantine Books

Random House Audio

This book fits in the following 2023 Reading Challenges:


Monthly Motif - In It to Win It (character takes on a personal challenge)

Diversity Challenge

Literary Escapes - Louisiana


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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, from Hannie's first part of the narrative, and/or download it from Audible.


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  1. I liked the one Lisa Wingate novel I read so will put this one on my TBR list. I'm glad it was a hit with you.