Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Review: The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes

Title: The Distance Between Lost and Found
Author: Kathryn Holmes
Publisher: Harper Teen
Release date: February 17th 2015
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary mystery
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free eGalley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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Ever since the night of the incident with Luke Willis, the preacher’s son, sophomore Hallelujah Calhoun has been silent. When the rumors swirled around school, she was silent. When her parents grounded her, she was silent. When her friends abandoned her … silent.
Now, six months later, on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains, Hallie still can’t find a voice to answer the taunting. Shame and embarrassment haunt her, while Luke keeps coming up with new ways to humiliate her. Not even meeting Rachel, an outgoing newcomer who isn’t aware of her past, can pull Hallie out of her shell. Being on the defensive for so long has left her raw, and she doesn’t know who to trust.
On a group hike, the incessant bullying pushes Hallie to her limit. When Hallie, Rachel, and Hallie’s former friend Jonah get separated from the rest of the group, the situation quickly turns dire. Stranded in the wilderness, the three have no choice but to band together.
With past betrayals and harrowing obstacles in their way, Hallie fears they’ll never reach safety. Could speaking up about the night that changed everything close the distance between being lost and found? Or has she traveled too far to come back?
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I really love the idea for this novel, combining a survivor story with a more typical contemporary YA storyline. The survival element was a lot of fun to read about, and while I had some issues with the other storylines, The Distance Between Lost and Found was definitely an enjoyable read for me.

The survival element is what really drives the story, in my opinion. It was fascinating to read about how Hallie, Jonah, and Rachel dealt with everything nature threw at them, things I'd never thought about happening. This storyline was enough to keep the suspense up throughout the novel, ensuring I kept flipping pages without ever wanting to put it down.

Another aspect I liked, surprisingly, was the religious one. I'm not usually a fan of books that incorporate religious elements because it almost always ends up being preachy. But the way it's incorporated into The Distance Between Lost and Found, it actually works. Since this is a youth group trip, of course questions of religion come up, but we get a variation of points-of-view, rather than just getting one opinion shoved down our throats. Rachel isn't religious at all, and Hallie and Jonah both grew up in religious families and are at varying stages of figuring out their own beliefs. While lost in the wilderness, they go back and forth between feeling God's spirit and feeling like God has abandoned them, and between thanking or blaming God for their situation and thanking or blaming themselves, which led to some interesting discussions. It's not the mad in focus of the story, but I really appreciated how open-ended the discussion of religion is in this novel.

I also really liked Hallie as a character. I never quite got used to her full name being Hallelujah and was thrown off each time I read that, but her as a person, I liked. She is easy to relate to in her issues, and she's a very strong character throughout this trip. Rachel is a great character, too, and I wish her and Hallie's friendship, and what that could do for what Hallie is struggling with, had been more of a focus.

But then there's the part of the story I didn't like, which was most of the backstory of how Hallie came to be so isolated, and how that is dealt with over the course of the novel. The story behind how Hallie got shunned is definitely an important one, but it's also a bit predictable because it's been done before, and I think other books have handled it better. I can't really explain this in detail without spoiling anything, so I'll do that in a separate paragraph, but the short version would be that this story oversimplifies the issues and places too much blame on the individual rather than the community, and promotes some problematic, slutshame-y views.

***This paragraph contains spoilers!!!***
The way what happened between Hallie and Luke is handled includes way too much slut-shaming for me. Luke sexually assaulted Hallie, and Hallie is the one that's slutshamed and shunned by the community. Jonah didn't stand up for Hallie when it happened and simply took Luke's word for it, which is sort of addressed when they reconcile on this trip. What isn't addressed, though, is how Jonah didn't want to like her anymore once he found out she hooked up with Luke, because she was "a slut with someone else" - and that's never seen as a problem in their relationship, which is not okay. Additionally, it bothered me how only Luke is seen as the bad guy - of course he is a really crappy person, but he's not the only one to have treated Hallie crappily. I feel like the novel sort of takes the easy way out by making Luke out to be entirely terrible and everyone else to be good. Rather than talking about how the rest of the community and her friends are wrong in abandoning her when people find out she's a "slut," the novel simply talks about how Hallie learns to stand up for herself and reach out to people. Of course learning to stand up for yourself is good, but the fact the evolution of the story focuses entirely on that aspect promotes a victim-blaming point-of-view. Yes, Luke deserves to be punished and, if she wants to, Hallie should be free to tell people what really happened; but even if she had thrown herself at Luke, that doesn't mean she's a horrible person and deserves to be shunned by everyone she knows. That part of the story is never really addressed, which sends a really problematic message.

These issues made it hard for me to like the personal development storyline as much as the survival element. However, the suspenseful survival story and the relatable main character were enough to make me really enjoy this novel. If you're looking for a suspenseful story with a little depth, The Distance Between Lost and Found is the book for you - but if you want a more in-depth discussion of the issue at hand, there are others that address the issue in a more productive way (like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, of course).


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