Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"The Lost Girls"

After a decade practicing law and another raising kids, Heather Young decided to finally write the novel she’d always talked about writing. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and the Tin House Writers Workshop, all of which helped her stop writing like a lawyer. She lives in Mill Valley, California, with her husband and two teenaged children. When she’s not writing she’s biking, hiking, neglecting potted plants, and reading books by other people that she wishes she’d written.

Young applied the Page 69 Test to The Lost Girls, her debut novel, and reported the following:
The Lost Girls follows three generations of women linked by the disappearance of a six-year-old girl from her family’s summer house on a remote Minnesota lake in 1935. It’s told in two interwoven narratives: a journal in which Lucy, the missing girl’s older sister, reveals the secrets she’s been keeping about that summer, and the story of Justine, who inherits the decaying, isolated lake house after Lucy’s death and moves there with her two young daughters, driven by her own desperate need to escape her past.

Page 69 is from a Lucy chapter that begins to tease out the complicated relationships among the three Evans sisters and their mother. Lilith, the eldest sister at 13, has begun to grow up, leaving eleven-year-old Lucy behind at the outer reaches of childhood. In this scene Lilith is off with her new teenaged friends, leaving Lucy to hover awkwardly around Mother and six-year-old Emily, Mother’s favorite:
“Where’s Lilith?” Mother asked as I leaned against the doorway.

“At the lodge,” I said, “with Jeannette and Betty and them.” I watched her. She pursed her lips, and I could tell she didn’t know what to make of this. Lilith and I had never separated before, and although Jeannette and Betty were nice girls from good families, they were older, and she had to know what that meant. I think I was hoping she’d intervene, perhaps forbid Lilith from going, but I shouldn’t have hoped that. Even then I knew she’d relinquished any power she might have had over Lilith and me long ago.

Emily was watching me from Mother’s lap. I frowned at her, indulging a small flare of resentment. Once it had been my hands Mother guided in embroidery, and my bed she shared at night. My bed, where I’d pull Mother’s arm over my head so its soft weight closed my ear to everything but her heartbeat and mine, a thrum-thrum that sent me safely into sleep. Until the night, soon after Emily outgrew her crib, when Mother sat beside me in her white cotton nightdress, her long hair in its plait, and looked at me with a sorrowful apology in her face that in those days I thought was sweet and plain, a perfect mother’s face. “Good night, baby,” she said. Then she laid her hand on my forehead, smoothed back the curls, and kissed me, her lips light and dry, before slipping away to Emily’s room. Ever since, I’d fallen asleep alone, except for summer, when Lilith and I shared our bedroom at the lake.
The Lost Girls is about the price of loyalty, the burden of regret, and the meaning of salvation, but most of all it’s about the bonds of family, and how the secrets of past generations cast shadows that children and grandchildren must escape if they want to define their own destiny. Page 69 contains some of the earliest hints of all these themes, and I hope it’s a scene readers return to in their minds once the book is done.
Visit Heather Young's website.

--Marshal Zeringue