The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly was a recipient of the 2007 Alex Award given to adult books that appeal to young adult readers ages 12-18, but I’m not so sure.

The story concerns David, age twelve, who is unhappy with his new step-mother and his new home outside London where his parents hope he’ll be safe from the ravages of World War II.  After a German bomber crashes behind his family garden, David finds himself in a fantasy world, pursued by both a pack of human like wolves and the mysterious Crooked Man.  A friendly woodsman rescues him and sets him off on a journey to find the king who may be able to send David back home.

The adventure that follows pays tribute to many classic fairy tales and children’s books.  The woodsman inspired by Snow White,  the human-wolves from Red-Riding Hood, the Seven Dwarfs appear as does Sleeping Beauty.  The journey to see the king is right out of The Wizard of Oz as is the possibility that it all may be a dream meant to reveal David’s confused emotional state.   (This also references Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.)  David is a reader with a library full of books just like these so the novel can naturally make his imagined world real.  That the book’s overall structure mimics The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe which had not been written yet as its characters are contemporaries of David is a nice touch.

It’s a very good book.  I enjoyed it.  I recommend it.  But I wouldn’t recommend it to young adult ages 12-18.  I think they are both too old and too young for it.  The Book of Lost Things is a gentle story.  There is some action, there are some dark elements to it, but it’s a sweet tale about a little boy who has lost his mother in the end.  I think readers in the 12-18 brackets will lose patience with it early on.  I know this may seem crass to say, but The Book of Lost Things doesn’t have the sex and violence this age group is used to.  If you’re looking for Twilight, or The Hunger Games, or even Harry Potter, you’re not going to find it in The Book of Lost Things.  The adventure aspects of the novel are more suited to an elementary age group say grades four to six,  kids young enough to be excited when they recognize the seven dwarfs from Snow White and innocent enough to still enjoy being tucked into bed with happy ending.  12-18 is too old.

Paradoxically, 12-18-year-old readers are also too young for The Book of Lost Things.  It’s a very nostalgic book.  The story is about a 12-year-old but the narrative voice is fully grown, adult, experienced and able to present an adult take on  David’s story.  The narrator appears to be telling a children’s story, but he’s really telling a children’s story to an adult audience, one with an adult perspective on the story’s events and on the character of David.  It’s a children’s story you have to be grown to fully appreciate.

I’m sure there are 12-18-year-old-readers out there who have read The Book of Lost Things and loved it.  Recommending a book for a wide range of readers is a risky thing, something that can never be 100% accurate.  There’s always an exception, sometimes many.  But my advice on reading The Book of Lost Things is to wait until you are older.  Like me.


Since I first published this review back on my old blog, Ready When You Are C.B., I have completely forgotten everything about it.  Reading this review today was like reading about a new book.  It does sound like something I might like.  

4 thoughts on “The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

  1. I remember enjoying that book very much. I also read it around the same time as Anasi Biys and I think they had similar themes. Have you read The Ocean at the End of the Lane? Another dark, nostalgic tale about a child but really meant for adults. Good one.

  2. I remember this book mostly because it was the first one I read in 2012, when I was 20. I liked the book (my review suggests I liked it more than I remember!), but it did feel a bit ‘weird’. I think your reasoning about why teens may be both too old and too young for its story explains that feeling.

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