Though we do tend to read different genres, there is sometimes overlap in the books that we pick up and devour. When this happens, we decide to do a joint review, giving our thoughts through our own personal lenses of what we look for in reading material. When we were putting together our October Highlights post, we discovered that we each had picked this book. Obviously, a joint review was in order!
Book: “One Was Lost” by Natalie D. Richards
Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, October 2016
Where Did We Get this Book: the library!
Book Description: Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Are they labels or a warning? The answer could cost Sera everything.
Murder, justice, and revenge were so not a part of the plan when Sera set out on her senior camping trip. After all, hiking through the woods is supposed to be safe and uneventful.
Then one morning the group wakes up groggy, confused, and with words scrawled on their wrists: Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Their supplies? Destroyed. Half their group? Gone. Their chaperone? Unconscious. Worst of all, they find four dolls acting out a murder—dolls dressed just like them.
Suddenly it’s clear; they’re being hunted. And with the only positive word on her wrist, Sera falls under suspicion…
Whelp, I knew going in that this book was either going to be a great hit or potentially a big miss for me. A little background: I grew up in a very, very rural part of northern Idaho. I’m talking “only had an outhouse/had to sno-mobile 5 miles in during the winter/wood stove for heat and cooking/solar power/etc” type of remote. That being the case, I spent large portions of my childhood running around in the woods with my sister. So, for one, the woods aren’t a natural “fear factor” for me. And for two, I grew up learning a lot about how to survive in these types of situations. All of that said, because of this, I always find myself gravitating to books like these that focus on the experiences of others in the woods, just because I love the setting. But that also means that I approach these types of stories from a hyper critical standpoint, which isn’t the book’s fault. So I have to spend a lot of time balancing my personal reaction to a book like this against that of the average reader. But, since we’re joint reviewing this, Kate will be here to give her perspective as the non “woodland wild child” reader!
But first, I don’t want to give the impression that this book was a complete failure for me. I feel like the main cast of characters were very likable. They were a diverse group (if perhaps a bit too stereotypical), and I liked the attention that was spent addressing the difference challenges that each of these teens had faced in the typical highschool experience. Sera herself was a very good narrator. While the writing and voice were rather simplistic, she was likable and for the most part I was fully on board with her as a protagonist. There was an interesting backstory with her mother and with the impact that this relationship has had on Sera’s own life and sense of self. I wish there had been even more on this, as the ending felt a bit rushed with her ability to resolve what has to be a huge, ongoing personal conflict. There was also a romance that, while I still don’t feel that it was necessary and had an overly dramatic backstory that proved to be a let down when it was revealed, wasn’t as terrible as I first suspected. Just wish there was less of it.
But, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I had some very specific issues with this book, and what frustrates me the most is that much of it comes down to poor research on the author’s part. Look, I know this book is about teens out in the wilderness and that, due to this, they aren’t going to know all the ins and outs of wilderness survival. However, they make SO MANY WILDLY BAD DECISIONS!
About a third of the way in, after they wake up with the words written on their wrist, there are a few chapters that are made up of just one bad decision after another. There’s the very basics that most people know: never wander off. If you’re completely lost, stay put. Here, not only are they not lost, but they have a perfectly good trail with only a three days’ walk out, which in the grand scheme, really isn’t much. So it’s a million times more stupid to instead go wandering out into the wilderness with the hope that you might not get turned around and you might find the road and maybe rescuers will find you even though you are now putting miles between yourself and where they would know to look.
Then there are more specific things that are just common sense. Obviously, water is your most important priority (after not wandering off! And not fixating on food, which they do. Obsessively. For the record, you can live three weeks without food and do not, in fact, start feeling massive effects after ONE DAY). And maybe, maybe, river water is a safer bet than water that is being left for you by a madman who has ALREADY POISONED YOUR WATER ONCE! Any bacteria in a river (if there even is any, fast moving water is usually a safe bet as long as it’s not draining directly out of a cow field) is going to be curable once you’re found. And if you’re not found…you have bigger problems.
And then, just because you shouldn’t camp near a river that may flood, this does NOT somehow make it too dangerous to follow (civilization is found near water). Like, what do they think is going to happen? The river is somehow going to instantaneously flood enough to take them out in seconds if they’re walking along it? Walk a ways above the water line, for crying out loud.
The story was much stronger when it simply focused on the thriller aspects and left aside any survival choices. After this initial string of events ends, the mystery/thriller aspects picked up again and I was able to shut my brain off for a good portion. And if it had maintained this until the end, I might have given the book a pass. Unfortunately, near the end, it lost me again with what was the last straw for me as far as poor research goes. Sera has a cut hand. They find peroxide to put on it. And then there are several paragraphs about how horribly painful it is applying the peroxide….
Peroxide is painless. The author clearing didn’t do one iota of research and simply failed to spend the time differentiating between rubbing alcohol and peroxide. Which, look, I get that it’s a small thing. But after all the rest, it was the final straw to my patience with this book. If you, an author, are going to write a survival story about teens in the woods, it is not too much to ask that you do basic research. And I, the reader, expect more. There was some more nonsense about finding a 4 wheeler but not leaving immediately because “Omg, cliffs!”…as if headlights aren’t a thing. And the fact that they find a RV along with the 4 wheeler, but somehow there are no roads (how did it get there??) necessitating said wandering in the woods. And…I was done with the book at this point.
And then there’s me, City Girl Kate! I was raised in the city, by two parents who grew up on farms and decided that nature just wasn’t their bag once they could escape it. So nature isn’t MY bag either! And therefore, I went into “One Was Lost” with less knowledge about what the dos and don’ts are when it comes to wilderness trekking and survival. While some of the obvious mistakes jumped out at me, most of the others Serena mentioned went right over my head. I’d probably die in the woods, because I’m pretty clueless.
So I guess I was kind of able to go in with less critical eyes in my head, at least when it came to the survival skills trope. HOWEVER, when it came to horror tropes and thriller plot points, I too had a harder time swallowing “One Was Lost”. I was hoping for some kind of “Blair Witch Project” story (For crying out loud, the cover alone is a nod to it), but sadly it didn’t quite live up to the expectations that I placed upon it. Perhaps unfairly, but placed upon nonetheless.
I did like the characters that we followed, I want to make that perfectly clear. Sera was a relatable and interesting protagonist, whose baggage is kind of unique when looking at YA protagonists. I liked her backstory and I thought that it was believable enough to explain some of her reasoning and decisions she made down the line, as well as parallel some of the revelations as they were exposed. I agree with Serena that the romance she had with Lucas was a bit unnecessary, though I did like Lucas and the foil he provided when verbally sparring with Sera. Emily and Jude were also interesting enough, though we didn’t get to see as much of either of them so they fell a bit more into their stereotypes (Emily as the quiet victimized girl, Jude as the spoiled and privileged adoptee. Side note, I think Jude could have been VERY interesting being a transracial adoptee of two gay men, but that wasn’t focused on at all). I think that their introductions were a little rushed, as we pretty much hit the ground running. As the plot kept going and as they all found themselves in worse and worse situations, I got a pretty good idea as to what was going on, at least in terms of who was probably harassing them and stalking them. Maybe not in the bigger picture as to motive, granted, but I called who the culprit was long before the big reveal. I know that I’m a horror girl and a thriller girl, and I know what to look for. But there were things that tipped me off and they are things that have been seen in many, many other stories of both genres.
I also found myself rolling my eyes when the urban legend/ghost story that was told had to do with “Cherokee Spirits” living in the woods. Jeeze. Why is it that sometimes these stories feel a need to trot out Indigenous stories while totally butchering them? It was uncomfortable for me, especially given the recent dust up with “The Continent”. Luckily this was kept to a minimum, but really, it shouldn’t have been in there in the first place.
So for me, “One Was Lost” was also a disappointment, though I did like Sera and the personal journey that she went through. I just wish that this book had done more, because the potential really was there, and I wish that some choices that were made had been taken out before publishing.
Serena’s Rating 5: A strong premises and lead character, all foiled by very poor research that kept kicking me out of the story.
Kate’s Rating 5: I liked the characters and I liked the backstory, but the plot was a bit too predictable for me, and some of the storytelling devices were a bit aggravating.
“One Was Lost” is a new book so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Wilderness Horror Stories.”
Find “One Was Lost” at your library using WorldCat!