The Lost Boy is a gorgeously illustrated thriller that starts atmospherically but doesn’t maintain momentum by the somewhat flat and obvious ending. It’s a great book for tweens and teens, though, who will enjoy the mood and fantastical elements and likely not be put off by the obviousness of the plot.
Story: Nate, a young boy, moves to a new town and isn’t happy about the relocation. Then he finds an old tape recorder in the floorboards of his room and hears an incredible story of another boy from 50 years ago unfold. The appearance of a neighbor with a daughter his age, who reacts strongly when she sees Nate’s tape recorder, sets a great adventure in motion. For behind Nate’s house is the entrance to a secret, fantastical world – a gate whose key an evil, otherworldy presence is desperate to obtain. A key that Nate is accused of hiding.
The clean, well drawn, black and white illustrations are the heart of this graphic novel. Each looks to have been lovingly done. Every page is intricately detailed and hold reader attention. That arts brings the magical otherworld of talking bugs riding dogs, evil tree-like creature, walking doll, and even an anthropomorphic squirrel to life. Since this is a mystery, the first part flies very quickly as the story of Walt, a boy from the 1950s, is told through the voice recorder to Nate. Along with Tabitha, the next door neighbor who is Nate’s age, the two work together to solve the half century old mystery of Walt’s disappearance.
About half way through the story, a lot of the plot becomes quite obvious – perhaps more than was necessary to ensure that a younger audience could follow. A reader always hopes for a different/unique perspective on a fantasy story but again, with The Lost Boy, it’s quite obvious what happened to Walt and who the evil Verspertine was and why he was after Nate.
The book has a quirky assortment of side characters – from a smart talking squirrel to the animated boy doll. But again, we’ve seen their type of snark before and droll observations on ‘apelings’ did kind of get old fast. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the book is that none of Nate’s companions, though fighting on his side, were truly loyal to him. They all seemed to be along for the ride and I never got a sense that any of them, even Tabitha, was fully committed. Everyone seemed to be reluctantly brought into the battle and I thought this could have been more aptly named, “The Lonely Boy” as a result. Both Nate and Walt ended up being unlikeable loners.
I did read this to the end and gave it to my 11 year old, who also enjoyed the mystery aspect. I rate this a strong 4 stars simply because the illustrations were so well done that it did a lot to lift an otherwise oddly disaffecting story. Certainly, the art rewards repeat viewing.
Despite the story taking place in different times (Walt’s recordings from the 1950s and Nate’s modern day listening), the author cleverly denoted the era through the use of black or white backgrounds on the pages. I found that very helpful and very smart.
In all, despite a somewhat cliche story/ending, I did enjoy The Lost Boy.