CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 20. . . .January 29, 2016
In Lost, John Wilson’s most recent novel for the “Orca Currents” high interest/low reading level series, he brings back the characters Sam and Annabel from two of his previous books, Stolen and Bones, to star in a suspenseful adventure story based on the mystery of the Franklin Expedition. Like the two earlier novels, the teenage protagonists must solve puzzles from the past and outwit wealthy collectors who want to steal priceless artifacts. In Lost, Wilson focuses on Inuit characters, culture and the oral tradition to develop the mystery, and Inuit knowledge is essential to Sam and Annabel’s finding out what happened to Franklin.
Although Lost is an exciting novel in part due to the real life mystery that is at the core of the story, there are some minor issues with the believability of the plot. As seen in the excerpt, Sam and Annabel find themselves as part of a small focus group chosen through an unsolicited contest to test out a new luxury cruise through the Northwest Passage. They are understandably sceptical about how they were selected to go on the cruise, and they wonder if it is a scam. Their continuing to be sceptical even while on the trip helps to alleviate the reader's own misgivings about the realism of the situation. However, the fact that two teenagers are invited to go on a test run of a cruise without a parent or guardian chaperoning them is much less believable. At one point, Sam’s dad asks if Sam will take him on the trip, but Sam says he has already promised his girlfriend. Sam’s father accepts this, and the two youth fly from Australia to the Northwest Territories alone. Although parts of the scenario that set up the adventure in Lost are somewhat less believable than in previous books in the series, readers who have already encountered these characters will quickly choose to ignore how they get started on their journey.
Although the Stolen, Bones, and Lost are set sequentially, readers can enjoy them out of order without much difficulty. Readers unfamiliar with the series will easily piece together all of the relevant background information as the story develops without the intrusion of an extensive or obvious summary of previous books. At the same time, the quirky endearing characters of Sam and Annabel build well through the series, and once the reader encounters them again in Lost, the protagonists feel like strong, well-rounded characters. For instance, readers will probably find more humour in Sam’s bewilderment at Annabel’s new passion for cryptic crosswords if they know about her obsession with Pi in the last novel. This sense of complex, well-developed characters is somewhat unusual in the “Orca Currents” series where authors are confined to a limited number of pages and need to appeal to reluctant readers. When combined with all of the interesting information the reader learns about the historical puzzle and the rapid plot development, Lost seems to burst the confines of its format to feel unusually rich for the high interest-low reading level format.
Wilson has hit his stride in his books about Sam and Annabel, drawing readers in with the fascinating mystery of the Franklin Expedition and building to an exciting climax. The author's note at the end of the book is sure to get readers searching for the other books Wilson has written concerning John Franklin. Lost will appeal to a broad range of young readers of various reading levels beyond the intended audience.
Beth Wilcox is a teacher-librarian in Prince George, BC. She is a graduate of the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature program at the University of British Columbia.
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