Title: We Are Lost and Found
Author: Helene Dunbar
Summary: Michael is content to live in the shadow of his best friends, James and Becky, and his older brother, Connor, who was kicked out of the house for being gay. To pass the time before graduation, Michael hangs out at The Echo where he can dance and forget about his father’s angry words, the pressures of school, and the looming threat of AIDS, a disease that everyone is talking about but no one understands. Then he meets Gabriel, a boy who actually sees him. And Michael has to decide what he’s willing to risk to be himself.
Note: an ARC of this title was acquired via the publisher.
To be honest, the cover of We Are Lost and Found is what sold the book for me. It had been on my radar through NetGalley, but once I saw a huge stack of books available at BEA, I went *grabby hands* hard. I mean, this wasn’t a bad book, but I didn’t love it the way I’d expected to (especially with the blurb name-dropping The Perks of Being a Wallflower!), and so it came off as more boring and just all-around “meh” rather than, say, terrible.
The protagonist, Michael, just happens to be in the middle of a superbly interesting time period, but his particular story is kind of bland in comparison. (I personally enjoyed his friends Becky and James much more than anyone else in the book.) He is supposed to be your everyday teenager struggling with his identity while living in 1983 New York City. But add in his homophobic and overbearing parents, his desire to explore his sexuality under the constant threat (and reminder) of AIDS, and his attempts to navigate being a closeted gay kid and everything he does to explore his identity becomes that much harder—and he somehow never measures up.
You’ll find a way to tell your story, she says.
But I don’t have a story, I respond.
Everyone has a story, Michael. Maybe you just don’t know the plot of yours yet.
The prose is written in short vignettes and without quotation marks—a style that, admittedly, you do have to get used to—but even when we aren’t in Michael’s head, it sort of feels like we are anyway. But Michael is boring, y’all. His friend James, who is an English teen performance artist living alone in New York and who more directly engages with AIDS, is much more interesting. His friend Becky, who basically single-handedly deals with her drug-addicted mom while also raising herself, is more interesting. Michael’s brother, Connor, who publicly came out at his high school graduation and got kicked out of the house, is more interesting. Even Becky’s boyfriend, Andy, who is a member of the Guardian Angels and who we barely even meet—he was more interesting than Michael.
It was so hard for me to empathize with Michael because nothing bad ever really happens to him. And when it does? Everything just happens to work out in the end. Dunbar does such a good job at imbuing her characters and plot with vivid detail, but she chose the wrong person to introduce us to the story. It’s fair to say that, after finishing We Are Lost and Found, I feel energized to tackle either And the Band Played On or How to Survive a Plague (or perhaps both?)—but it also means Dunbar’s book was lacking, that I need someone else’s account of early 1980s New York to fill in the gaps.