I Have Lost My Way

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
I Have Lost My Way Book Poster Image
Three teens meet and change one another in poignant story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Teen readers will be exposed to realistic descriptions of social media and the music industry, New York City and California, Ethiopian and Pakistani culture and cuisine, the Muslim faith and conservative Muslim beliefs, and how LGBTQ identity is discouraged/suppressed in certain faith communities. Many references to The Lord of the Rings.

Positive Messages

Important messages about the human need for connection, friendship, empathy. The power and influence of sibling and parent-child relationships is stressed. The three main characters' stories make it clear that being true to yourself and honest with those you love is necessary to be happy and fulfilled. Explores mature themes such as parent abandonment, death, suicide and suicidal thoughts, and coming out to religious parents.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Freya, Nathaniel, and Harun each have to deal with individual losses, guilt, sadness, shame, uncertainty. They feel alone, like no one understands their pain, but through their interactions discover they are still capable of connection, compassion, friendship. Includes representation of diverse experiences, including a gay Muslim teen; a half-Jewish, half-Ethiopian teen; and a white teen dealing with his father's mental illness.

Violence

The three characters meet after Freya falls on Nathaniel and knocks him out momentarily, leading to him seeming like he has a concussion. Nathaniel discusses the disturbing way in which he was permanently injured while in his father's care, and the two deaths in his family that have left him feeling alone and disconnected from the world.

Sex

One character recalls a few sexual experiences with his first and only love. Two older teens flirt, fall for each other quickly, and share one spectacular kiss/make-out session. Mentions of arousal, "filthy thoughts" about what people want to do with and to each other, lots of descriptions of why two people are attractive, etc. Two characters recall their first times.

Language

Occasional strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "d--k," "bitch," "a--hole," "douche." One use of "f--got" and its Urdu counterpart.

Consumerism

Mentions of iPhone, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, SoundCloud, Facebook.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult has wine at a family meal. Two older teens drink beers given to them for participating in a softball game.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Have Lost My Way is the latest realistic contemporary novel from best-selling YA author Gayle Forman. It takes place all in one momentous day in New York City, after three older teens dealing with profound heartache and loss end up accidentally meeting in Central Park. The book follows the three strangers -- social media singing sensation Freya, who has lost her voice; beautiful but shy Nathaniel, who has survived neglect and abandonment; and heartbroken Harun, a Pakistani American Muslim who's ashamed of being gay and has broken up with his boyfriend/first love. There is some typical strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," etc., and a few references to sexual experiences (first times and beyond) and attraction/arousal. The violence includes an accidental fall that concusses a main character, as well as recollections of how a character was permanently injured. There are potentially disturbing memories of loved ones dying, and there's discussion of suicidal thoughts and mental illness. Parents and teens who read the book together will have lots to discuss about family relationships, sexual orientation, mental health, and more.

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What's the story?

Gayle Forman's I HAVE LOST MY WAY takes place in one momentous day in New York City, when three older teens struggling with personal crises crash into one another in Central Park and go from strangers to fast friends. Freya, a half-Ethiopian, half-Jewish singer made famous through social media, has inexplicably lost her voice just as she was recording her first album with a big-name music producer who wants to turn her into the next Adele. Nathaniel, a ridiculously handsome but incredibly shy tourist with nothing but a backpack and 100 bucks on him, seems to be looking for his lost father. Harun, a Muslim Pakistani American college student and a fan of Freya's, has recently broken up with his first love, James, because he's worried about coming out to his family and community. When Harun witnesses Freya falling off a pedestrian bridge and onto an unsuspecting Nathaniel, who momentarily blacks out, the three strangers end up changing one another's lives.

Is it any good?

This is a complex, beautiful story about three teens who meet and end up transforming one another's lives one fateful day in New York City. It's difficult to write effective narratives that take place all in one day or night, but author Gayle Forman already accomplished that in the first part of Just One Day. In I Have Lost My Way, she expands on the idea of intense relationship-building, life-changing days with this unforgettable chronicle of how Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel, all of whom are bearing considerable burdens, crash into one another and go from total strangers to friends who share the deepest of secrets. Despite their different backgrounds, racial/ethnic identities, and circumstances, the three teens each have serious father issues: Freya's dad moved back to Ethiopia and abandoned the family; Harun's is loving, but he's a devout Muslim who wouldn't understand his son's sexual orientation; and Nathaniel's brought him up more as his best friend than as a son.

Forman handles the diversity with thoughtfulness and a sense of well-researched authenticity (the author is a Jewish New Yorker and has an adopted Ethiopian daughter). The representation in I Have Lost My Way goes way beyond just mentioning a last name or an ethnicity/faith. These three characters are all well-rounded, and their family experiences are thoroughly explored. Thank goodness for the humor, like the fun park softball sequence, to break up the more serious and downright heartbreaking moments. The attraction and developing romance between Freya and Nathaniel is fast without devolving into stereotypical "instant love." Although this book is a standalone, readers will finish the final scene hoping for more from these characters who've burrowed their way into hearts and minds.

 

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about realistic contemporary novels like I Have Lost My Way that are popular with teens. Why are they so popular?

  • Who are the role models in the book? What character strengths do they exemplify?

  • Discuss the different kinds of diversity depicted in the book. Why is there a push for more representations of diversity in children's literature?

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