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Books in Brief: I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman; The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet


I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman; Viking, 272 pages ($18.99) Ages 14 and up.

Three lonely young people, all struggling with profound loss and the oppressive burden of impossible expectation, meet in a dramatic accident  in New York's Central Park and forge a strong connection with each other in this exquisite heartbreaker of a novel by the gifted Gayle Forman.

The novel is told in alternating chapters by Freya, Harun and Nathaniel, using flashbacks to slowly reveal "The Order of Loss," the trail of sadness that has led all three to the point where they feel: "I have lost my way."

Freya, an up-and-coming singer with a huge social media following, has suddenly lost her voice, and her desperate mother is taking her to therapists and experts trying to repair her voice before her savvy and cynical promoter dumps Freya for the next big thing. Harun is gay and in the thrall of first love but can't bring himself to come out to his Muslim parents who barely tolerated their older son's marriage to a non Muslim girl. Nathaniel is a formerly promising baseball player whose many years living alone with his mentally ill, dependent father in a "fellowship of two" have left him unmoored, cut off from the world.

Hungry and virtually penniless, Nathaniel has just arrived in Manhattan when Freya falls off a bridge on top of him, an accident witnessed by Harun.

Over the next 12 hours, the three find themselves visiting a medical clinic, a shoe store, a restaurant, the music promoter's office, able to share with each other the losses that have left them wounded. Forman masterfully, slowly reveals each character's "order of loss," leading up to the novel's perfect, dramatic finale.

The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet; Candlewick Press, 435 pages ($18.99) Ages 10 to 14.

This marvelous tale, of family  secrets, of the power of music and the importance of standing up for what's right, is set in inland Maine  1941 before the U.S. entrance into World War II and was inspired by the author's mother's hardscrabble childhood in Maine.

Eleven-year-old Gusta Neubronner's union-organizer father is a fugitive on the run and her mother can't afford to keep her in New York. So Gusto finds herself alone on a bus, toting her beloved French horn, arriving in the small town of Springdale, Maine, where the grandmother she has never met runs an orphanage.
Gusta will need all her courage to get along in this unfamiliar place, where her German name arouses suspicion and where her bad teeth and poor eyesight make her feel even more alien to her classmates.

The kindly local optometrist offers her a job caring for his pigeons in exchange for a pair of eyeglasses. Her cousin Betsy and orphan Josie, thrilled with Gusta's talent on the French horn, hatch a plan to form the Orphan Band of Springdale to compete at the county fair.

Gusta is on fire with indignation when she discovers her uncle can't afford the surgery to mend his hand injured in a workplace accident at the mill and sends a letter under an anonymous name inviting a union organizer in New York to Springdale. His arrival sets in motion a wild chain of events that bring disaster raining down on Gusta, events that involve the local music teacher, the villainous mill owner, the school essay contest and the long arm of the law.

Nesbet, author of many marvelous books including "The Cabinet of Earths," beautifully evokes this small corner of Maine, far from the sea, and this pivotal historical period including the suspicion of foreigners, the widespread poverty and the hostility to unions. Gusta is a marvelous heroine, with her inquiring mind and kind heart and sense of justice, who yet believes in the power of Wishes to make things right.

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