Anne Ursu’s The Lost Girl (2019) is a haunting middle-grade novel that dabbles in the fantastic, but it is real-world drama that drives the story-line. The novel is about two twin sisters, Iris and Lark, who mirror each other physically while having distinct personalities. The twins live with their mother and father, but (as is requisite for middle-grade fiction) the father is absent. He is in London on a six-month long business trip and is only introduced in the text through Skype. The story is really about the girls’ relationship with each other and their discovery of their uniqueness through a forced separation at school. The two had always been in the same class but start the new school year with separate teachers. This does allow them to experience individual challenges while learning that they can have separate experiences and still share a deep bond.
The fantastic is introduced slowly and ambiguously throughout the text. Things seem not-quite-right but not clearly wrong either. For instance, crows have historically had an uncanny attachment to Lark. The narrator is, in fact, a crow who follows the twins as the story unfolds and ends up playing a surprising part in the tale. Even more, a strange antique shop opens, and Iris is drawn to a book in it. All of these things can be explained, but they add to the general feel of mystery and whimsy.
By the end of the book, all subtlety is lost as Lark and some of Iris’s new friends join forces to help Iris in the tense and quite magical conclusion to the story.
I enjoyed getting lost in the pages of this beautifully told story. Lark and Iris are both well-developed and their relationships is wonderfully explored. I recommend this for young readers, between 10 and 14, who enjoy drama, mystery, and magic. It is very much a character driven novel and, like many middle-grade books, focuses on finding one’s self and gaining confidence and maturity.