Author: Sophie Chen Keller
Publisher: GP Putnam's Sons
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Everyone makes the mistake of assuming that Walter Lavender Jr is slow. Only his mother, Lucy, knows his strengths, his patience, his curiosity and kindness.
Walter has a unique talent, one that beats his weakness. His mouth is shut and the pathways of his mind remain locked. But his eyes are wide open. When he speaks, it is bursts of sounds – swapping consonants and dropped syllables and odd groupings.
At age seven, he discovers the ability to find lost things. After all, he knows the pain of loss, knows what it is like to yearn for a missing piece. His dad, Walter Lavender Sr, went missing when the flight to Bombay that he was co-piloting disappeared just days before young Walter was born. Yet, the child doesn’t stop looking. There is no giving up on a lost thing, even if it has been 12 going on 13 years.
And so he is best equipped to find lost treasure. There is a moment of incredulity, when a treasured thing becomes a lost thing.
He hones his skill, and very soon he has clients for who he helps find lost things: a bassoon, a CIA identity card, socks, a pair of thimbles, a cockatiel. While Walter helps put people in touch with their missing pieces, he faces his own struggles. His personal feelings of inadequacy stemming from the fact that he lacks something, a voice and a Dad.
And even though he doesn’t find his dad, he keeps looking. He knows that unwanted and lost or missed look the same but are different, and that lost things are bridges. They are connections to some other time or place or person or feeling.
Little acts of kindness are at the heart of this story, as they are in the world.
At first, the confectionery shop that Lucy sets up has no customers. But then she reaches out in kindness to a homeless artist, who gifts her a book of drawings, a Book that draws magic into the little shop. Customers begin to flood in, but not everybody sees the shop. It is only visible to those who need its magic.
Business improves, and Lucy hires Jose to do deliveries, and Flory to clean. Life is good. Flory does not need to rely on her coupons alone, and Jose can get his son’s tumour removed, and his own teeth fixed, if funds permit.
The shop is their haven, until the new landlord issues an ultimatum: agree to pay double the rent or clear out by the month-end. They have two days to decide.
Just as Lucy agrees to pay the new rate, the Book goes missing, and the magic in the shop evaporates. The crowds disappear. Lucy’s disappointment is a fragile crack like an egg dropping onto the floor.
Only Walter, finder of all things lost, could help find the book. But he has only one day to achieve the impossible.
All alone in New York, and this 12-year-old only has Milton, his dog, for company.
And so begins an adventure.
Will Walter find the book and restore the magic? And will he ever meet his father?
So many questions that Walter won’t even think about. All he knows is that he must find the Book, all seven pages, or risk losing his home forever.
Along the way, he gets sidetracked as he helps Lan, an old Chinese woman, get home, interacts with Nico, a man who lives in a cardboard box, a rat couple who live in an abandoned subway station, Junker, who collects junk, and an art student, Ruby Fontaine, among others.
With each new interaction, this boy who could barely speak learns a valuable lesson: That is what real bonds require – not just listening and taking in but also giving back some of yourself in kind.
He also realizes, Does that mean that as isolated as I feel, alone on the waters, I only need to cast a light and look around to see that we are all a part of the same ocean, the same story?
The book is written in the first person present tense point of view of Walter.
The beauty of the writing lies in how it succeeds in making the mundane appear magical. The book is awash with sounds we miss and aromas that open up sensations and memories.
What is most heartening is that we never feel the slightest pity for Walter. Instead we are swept off into his world, which is far richer than ours could ever be. We want to reach into the pages of this book and hug this precocious lad who scarcely knows what a gift he is.
I savoured the reading of the words in this story.
Watching a school, Walter tells us, The kids pour out like spilled birdseed.
When he finds what he is looking for, Joy pours into me like melted sunlight, or relief descending around my shoulders like a peppermint mist.
At one place, he observes of a man, He makes a gruff, sad noise like loosening the regret stuck to the back of his throat.
How do secrets feel? Like cinching a drawstring and the two of us pulled closer together by our shared knowledge.
There were so many things I liked about this book, besides the beautiful prose.
I liked the way the author slips in stories about the things Walter helped find.
The descriptions of the cake mixing were heavenly. I loved them.
Walter’s baking metaphors are everywhere. When he cuts circles into the chessboard squares, he says, it’s like removing chocolate turtle cakes from their ramekins.
But the best thing about this book was undoubtedly Walter. He carries a notebook about into which he writes short phrases, the distillations of his feelings and experiences. At the end, a dream worth waking up for. Through the course of his search, he faces love and fear and anger and loneliness, but he also finds courage and vulnerability and connection and conviction.
The story takes us into Walter’s world where he makes himself small and quiet and invisible. His slowness and the silence it forces upon him help him to see and make connections others might miss.
Right away we know that Walter is special, that he is not like most people who talked without thinking, just opening their mouths to release a volley of words like arrows. He can see The skin of the world as it gilded and stretched and caught glimmers of the underlying bones and gears. He can sense the disappointed hiss of something doused before it could be said.
For a 12-year-old, Walter understands that everyone loses things...the elderly when they forget and the young when they don’t pay attention and the middle-aged when there are too many things to do.
The Luster of Lost Things is a delectable story that reminds us that the kindness we show is the kindness we receive. That is the truest magic there is.
Yes, Walter’s Book has magic, but The Luster of Lost Things has its own blend of magic that left a warm impression on me.
(I got a free ARC from FirstToRead).