‘Spellbook of the Lost and Found’ by Moïra Fowley-Doyle: Book Review

“That night, everybody lost something.”

Spellbook of the Lost and Found is a young adult fantasy book told from multiple points of view that begins when belongings start to disappear during a summer party. On the night of the party, Olive’s best friend Rose disappears, and when she returns, Olive can tell that something’s changed. Meanwhile, Laurel and her friends find a spellbook that contains a spell for finding lost things, which they cast, unaware of the strange events that will follow. The third point of view belongs to a character named Hazel, a runaway who’s holding tightly to secrets of her own.

This is a genre-spanning book that feels more like a coming-of-age novel than a fantasy, filled with mystery and strange, unexplained events that create an enchanting atmosphere. The genre is probably best described as magical realism, as it’s set in the real world, with subtly magical elements. There’s a darkness to the events in this book, which explore themes of loss, love, sexuality, friendship, grief, virginity, and violence. It’s one of those books that feels enchanting and captivating, whilst making it clear that there’s a subtext behind the magic – this isn’t just a book about spells and charms.

I loved the first half of this book. I found the mystery surrounding the lost items captivating and unusual, and I loved the atmosphere created. I particularly liked the subtlety of the magic and how it toed the line between the everyday and the supernatural. Towards the end of the book, my interest dwindled a little, as the mysteries began to resolve themselves and the initial wonder wore off and I began to notice cliches in the writing.

The plot is intriguing and relatively slow-moving. There aren’t really any major conflicts in the story, as instead it’s composed of a set of smaller mysteries and dilemmas faced by the characters. I think this is what makes it feel more like a coming-of-age novel than a fantasy. It explores a lot of “everyday” problems that I’m used to finding in young adult contemporaries, the difference being that it sets these against a slightly magical backdrop and laces them with the supernatural. It handles some familiar but serious subjects like virginity, consent, and family dynamics.

“Maybe it’s that I drank too much and remember too little about last night. Maybe it’s that Rose left without me. Maybe it’s what the blond-haired boy said about another kiss. Maybe it’s the beautiful boy I saw at the edge of the field, looking like he’d lost something. But I feel like I might have lost something myself, and I have no idea what it is.”

I have mixed opinions about the main characters. I found Laurel difficult to get an impression of: I felt like I could picture her two friends more clearly than herself, though even they felt like relatively shallow stereotypes of a sensitive and naive girl and a brash, aggressive friend. Olive felt like a very “normal”, relatable character whose defining trait was how much she cared about her best friend, Rose. Again, Rose felt more fleshed out than Olive, as she has a larger-than-life personality that I really got a feel for in this book. Hazel, meanwhile, was a character I sometimes struggled to separate from Olive, because whilst they’re two characters with completely different backgrounds and personalities, they didn’t feel like they had distinct narrative voices.

One of the things I loved about the characters was their diversity. There are at least a couple of different sexualities represented in this book: Rose and Olive both identify as bisexual, and whilst Hazel’s sexuality is never defined, she begins the book in love with her friend, Ivy. It’s still rare to see books with bisexual representation, particularly ones whose plots aren’t centred around sexuality, so I really appreciated this aspect of the book, and liked that whilst sexuality was a part of the characters’ stories, it wasn’t necessarily a “big deal”. I also liked that the characters represented different body types: I’ve read so many fantasies in which every main character seems to be a “slender” girl with “small breasts” that I’m really glad to have read about characters who don’t fit this same mold.

In my opinion the biggest problem with this book is that there are so many characters, and a lot of them don’t feel particularly fleshed out or have distinct voices. Another flaw is that there is no big “wow” factor towards the end, which some readers might see as a little anticlimactic. I also would have liked the book to become even darker, or for the events to escalate further and the pace to increase, as I felt a lot of potential for some really sinister goings-on. The biggest asset meanwhile, which I’ve already mentioned at least twice, is how well Moïra uses the fantasy as a backdrop for so many real-life issues that teenagers face. I can’t express how much I loved this aspect of the book, and how enchanted I was by this. For the first couple of days of reading this book, it was something that kept appearing in my mind, and kept willing me to go back and keep reading.

“What can you let go of? What can you afford to lose?”

On the whole, I really liked this book. It was enchanting and magical, and for the majority of the book, I was hooked. I would recommend it to readers who like thought-provoking coming-of-age stories and appreciate a little magic.

Rating: 4/5

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