Book Review: The Distance Between Lost and Found

The Distance Between Lost and Found
Published By: HarperTeen
Publication Date: February 17, 2015
Page Count: 320
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary

This was another novel that lured me in with its setting. The Great Smoky Mountains were the backdrop of many of my childhood memories. I always look on this region with great fondness. I've also always wondered what it would be like to get lost within the wilderness of the national park. I certainly don't think I could survive being lost for more than an hour or two, but I welcomed the chance to read about the experience.

Hallelujah aka Hallie Calhoun hasn't had the easiest time of things lately. A mistake on a youth trip with her church six months ago has left her ostracized. Hallie yearns for the life she had before the incident. Her lonely existence isn't the sort of life any teen should have to live; she faces constant bullying and snide remarks from Luke, the preacher's son and his friends. Rather than speak up for herself, Hallie allows others to use her as their doormat. Anger and resentment churn beneath the surface, but Hallie buries them beneath a defensive facade. I was so frustrated with Hallie in the beginning of the novel. She had allowed herself to be beaten down emotionally without even trying to set the record straight. I was also frustrated that her so called friends - Jonah included - believed the worst about her without question.

The novel begins on the first day of a youth trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. Hallie isn't excited about being stuck in the woods with the people who torment her for an entire week, but her parents didn't give her much of a choice. Hallie's experiences also have her questioning her faith. Everything changes from bad to worse when Hallie loses her way on a hike. She finds herself subject to the will of nature along with two of her fellow campers, Rachel and Jonah. Rachel is new to Hallie's life and knows nothing about her past, but Jonah knows far too much. Can the trio work together to find a way to save themselves from nature's wrath?

Ultimately, this story is about Hallie's emotional growth. She has to learn to overcome her past in order to have a brighter future. She finds her strength among the mountains. After facing down death, storms, and wild animals, how hard can facing down a stupid teenage boy be? I was also intrigued as I watch Hallie grapple with her faith. Being a teenager is difficult and trying to separate your religious beliefs from those of your parents can be taxing. Hallie's situation in the wilderness forces her to forge her own path. I think it's important to have these sorts of discussions with one's self. How else can you truly know your own mind and heart? I will say that while the concept of faith drives a lot of the character growth for the trio, I don't think the author tries to push the reader to believe one way of approaching religion is the correct one. Each of the trio views their faith in a very different way. I like that in the end, Hallie realizes that faith is important, but her actions and contributions are also something to be valued.

I enjoyed this one, but I was frustrated by the whole Hallie and Luke thing. I had trouble getting past it to see Jonah as the good guy. He does redeem himself eventually, but his behavior was immature. I also felt like there was a bit too much righteousness on his part. The whole Luke ordeal made my stomach churn. Youth groups have social dynamics that can be both nurturing and painful. If you fit into the clique of those who become the social elite of the youth group life is all sunshine and roses. For others, they find themselves on the outside constantly looking into a space that should have equal access. I wonder can you ever have a group for teens without their being a social hierarchy?

Overall, I was amazed by the courage and resourcefulness of Hallie, Rachel, and Jonah. I would never have been able to do the things they did. If I found myself in a similar situation, I hope that my survival instincts would kick in, but I also know that I am largely spoiled by my comfy life. I don't think nature and I mix well. I would never have expected to love a nature/survival story, but this was one that kept me reading late into the night.

P.S. - The purchase sites called this a blend of elements from Speak and Hatchet. I think that's pretty accurate. Both titles did pop into my mind as I read.

One Last Gripe: My major complaint was mentioned in the review. I hate that Luke is seen as blameless while Hallelujah is seen as a horrible person. I hate double standards.

Favorite Thing About This Book: The evolution of the characters - especially Hallie

First Sentence: She's alone.

Favorite Character: Hallie

Least Favorite Character: Luke

Ever since the night of the incident with Luke Willis, the preacher’s son, sophomore Hallelujah Calhoun has been silent. When the rumors swirled around school, she was silent. When her parents grounded her, she was silent. When her friends abandoned her … silent.

Now, six months later, on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains, Hallie still can’t find a voice to answer the taunting. Shame and embarrassment haunt her, while Luke keeps coming up with new ways to humiliate her. Not even meeting Rachel, an outgoing newcomer who isn’t aware of her past, can pull Hallie out of her shell. Being on the defensive for so long has left her raw, and she doesn’t know who to trust.

On a group hike, the incessant bullying pushes Hallie to her limit. When Hallie, Rachel, and Hallie’s former friend Jonah get separated from the rest of the group, the situation quickly turns dire. Stranded in the wilderness, the three have no choice but to band together.

With past betrayals and harrowing obstacles in their way, Hallie fears they’ll never reach safety. Could speaking up about the night that changed everything close the distance between being lost and found? Or has she traveled too far to come back?