________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 7. . . .October 20, 2017


The Lost Causes.

Jessica Koosed Etting & Alyssa Embree Schwartz.
Toronto, ON: KCP Loft/Kids Can Press, 2017.
341 pp., hardcover, $18.99.
ISBN 978-1-77138-844-3.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

*** /4



Ryan Nash sat in a nondescript white van, staring at a small television screen. He was absorbing every detail of the five students’ interactions in real time, thanks to a tiny camera he’d embedded in the wall of the classroom.

He focused on Sabrina on the monitor, trying to ignore his nagging annoyance at being placed on this assignment. He observed the way Sabrina pretended not to see Z rolling her eyes at her, noting the underlying friction between them. He hadn’t seen anything like that recorded in their files, but there were always nuances and quirks that emerged in person.

Patricia opened the side door of the van, slipping into the backseat. She wore a navy pantsuit that seemed too large for her narrow shoulders, though Nash couldn’t tell if the jacket was the wrong size or if Patricia was simply the type of woman who didn’t look right in a suit. He had yet to see one she appeared comfortable in.

“Everything is ready,” she told him as she quickly scanned the screen. “Shall we?” Though she phrased it like a question, it wasn’t. At fifty-five, she was over three decades older than Nash. She was the one with seniority, the one calling the shots. Despite her enthusiasm, Nash had a hard time believing this was going to work.

He nodded, but as he stepped outside the van he couldn’t help asking again. “You honestly think this is the best way?”

She paused, then said with absolute conviction, “I do. I know you’re not a believer yet, but by the end of this you will be.”


Sabrina, Gabby, Z, Justin and Andrew make up a dysfunctional group of people with a variety of problems ranging from hypochondria to drug and anger management issues. They are misfits within their school population, and even their parents have given up on them as hopeless lost causes. At the beginning of the book, the only thing they have in common is Dr. Pearl, the school psychologist. This unusual cast of characters is brought together by two FBI agents in the hope that the teens can solve the mystery of a local murder. Despite their obvious personal flaws, it appears the students might have hidden talents.

      The authors have created a suspenseful thriller which young adults will enjoy. The plot is fast-paced and entertaining, if somewhat inconsistent in places. The teens are provided with lots of clues as well as some red herrings which result in a variety of unexpected twists and turns in the story. Just when it appears that the case is solved, something else happens which prolongs the suspense. This plot tactic is used again right at the end of the novel, suggesting that a sequel might well be in the works.

      There is an element of science fiction to the story as well since the group of teens is unknowingly treated with a secret FBI serum at the very start of the book. This gives each of the characters a special psychic power which presumably will help them solve the murder. Superpowers, such as the ability to see ghosts or read minds, play a large role in the students’ ability to act as detectives. Occasionally these powers result in great leaps of faith within the plot, and while some readers will find this enjoyable, others might prefer a crime solved by deduction and logic.

      Each teen character is interesting, and the authors are able to give them individual characteristics within the story. Most adults within the book seem to be stereotypes, such as the various disinterested parents. The FBI agents don’t quite fit the usual mold. Nash has apparently been groomed to be an agent since the age of 10 and now, at 22, is one of two agents on an important case. Patricia, the agent in charge, seems intelligent and reliable on the surface, but later in the book, readers begin to question both her means and her motives. The authors also add a romance between FBI agent Nash and one of the students. This has little to do with either plot or character development.

      Trust is a key issue in the story as readers watch the individuals in the group gradually and somewhat grudgingly begin to trust one another. But which adults can be trusted? The group has a long list of suspects from whom to choose which adds to the building tension in the novel.

      Those who like an action-packed and suspenseful story will turn pages right to the end of The Lost Causes and will undoubtedly hope that the authors are planning a sequel.


Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and classroom teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

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