“Silence is not the answer.” This is the message of We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar, a coming of age story about being young and gay at the height of the AIDS crisis, living in fear of a world that does not care about your existence, and trying to be happy despite everything being stacked against you.
We Are Lost and Found is the story of three friends – Michael, Becky, and James – who live in New York City in the early 1980s. Michael and James, who are both gay, live in constant fear of this mysterious new disease that has struck the gay population of the city, and Michael is also forever tiptoeing around his homophobic father. His older brother, Connor, has already been kicked out of the apartment for “embarrassing” his parents by being gay, and Michael is desperate not to be put in the same situation.
There is a lot to like about this book. For one, it is extremely well-written; the prose is almost poetic. The characters are fully realized individuals and their relationships and interactions feel genuine and natural. Dunbar lived in New York City during the time period in which this book is set and bases a lot of it on her own experiences; she also consulted with several AIDS activists (who each wrote an Afterword about the epidemic) about what life was like for gay men at the time, so how Michael and James react to the crisis comes across as very authentic. There are enough pop culture references for you to understand the time period but not so many that it feels like hammering the point home.
This is a book that stays with you. It resonated with me. As a woman in her 30s still trying to figure out her identity, I saw myself in almost every character.
I must say that I was not a fan of some of the formatting decisions. This reads very much like a journal, bouncing from scene to scene, which I do not necessarily have a problem with. In fact, I think it worked with the meandering, slice-of-life nature of the plot (or lack thereof). But I cannot abide by the complete lack of quotation marks. I acknowledge that it’s a stylistic choice; I just don’t like it.
I wasn’t as put off by the lack of plot as others I have seen. We Are Lost and Found is a book where things happen but at the same time nothing happens; it’s a lot like life in that way. Michael is just an ordinary teenager going through some not-so-ordinary circumstances. You may not know first hand what it’s like to be a closeted gay teenager during the 1980s, but everyone can understand how it feels to be struggling to find an identity, to be hiding something from people you care about, to be afraid of something you can’t control.
Despite the heavy tone and bleak subject matter, there is a lot of hope in this book. I was prepared for something haunting and depressing, like when you watch a movie set during World War I and you know everyone is going to die, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how optimistic We Are Lost and Found manages to be. It reminds me that things actually do work out sometimes.
We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar is published by Sourcebooks Fire and is currently available wherever books are sold.
*I was provided with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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