A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will learn a good deal about the musical and cultural traditions of the South and the various forces, past and present, trying to exploit them -- not necessarily to the benefit of the locals. They'll also learn a bit about classical music because one character is a church organist. The troubles of Lutie's mother offer many illustrations of the evils of drugs, and the book is long on gentle life lessons.
It takes a village -- religious faith, family values, and an emphasis on education loom large in Lost Songs. Characters or their family members have dealt with issues including murder, drug addiction, and various violent crimes, as well as more commonplace home and workplace problems, and they're more notable for learning from their mistakes than from their perfection, but the fact that they have a strong foundation is clearly essential to these kids as they cope and learn.
Positive Role Models
Numerous adult characters fall spectacularly short (most notably Lutie's drugged-out mom, Saravette, who abandoned her as a baby). But others, notably Lutie's various aunts and uncle, and pastor Miss Veola, who collectively raised her after the death of her formidable grandmother, are all strong and positive characters. They not only have made something of their lives but also are determined that Lutie should do so with hers and not follow her mother's path.
Violence & Scariness
One of Lutie's classmates has a brother who is in prison for blinding a boy, and word on the street is that the brother actually killed someone, as well. Everyone expects the onetime nice boy to go the same way. Saravette tells Lutie that she's committed murder, and Lutie spends much of the book trying to determine whether this is just another figment of her drug-crazed imagination or whether she really is a murderer's child.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lutie herself is the result of her then-teen mom's wild living, which has continued in a downward spiral of sex, drugs, and general degradation. As the plot unfolds, there's more than one scene where a vulnerable young girl is in peril from a dicey environment or a shady character.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
There's a strong anti-drug message here, as Lutie's mother smokes, drinks, and does drugs, and life goes very badly for her and her loved ones as a result.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that, partly because this novel is set in the South, nearly all the characters, both white and black, are religious, and their Christian faith is a strong force in their daily life. Lost Songs is not about proselytizing, but if constant references to Jesus by people who regard him as a presence in their lives are an issue, heads up. The novel also features a crack-and-meth-addicted mom and characters' past stories of murder and violence.
Is It Any Good?
THE LOST SONGS offers a good read. Since the million-selling The Face on the Milk Carton, Cooney has established a well-deserved reputation for crafting compelling stories with plots and characters that grab even reluctant readers and keep them turning pages to the end. This one is an entertaining window on Southern high school life, a look at lives gone very right and very wrong, and a ringing endorsement of faith and the power of community.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.