Title: The Lost Soul Atlas
Author: Zana Fraillon
Published: July 2020
Readership: Middle Grade
Genre: Magical Realism/Fantasy
I received a copy of The Lost Soul Atlas from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
A powerful story of hope and friendship, from the author of The Bone Sparrow.
A boy awakens in the Afterlife, with a pocketful of vague memories, a key, a raven, and a mysterious Atlas to guide him as he sets out to piece together the mystery of his final moments…
Back on Earth, Twiggy is a street kid with a missing dad. But when he meets Flea, a cheerful pickpocket, the pair become fast friends, better even than blood family itself. Together, Twig and Flea raise themselves on the crime-ridden streets, taking what they need and giving the rest to the even-poorer. Life is good, as long as they have each other. But the all-powerful Boss who rules the streets has other plans.
Loyalty will be tested, and a cruel twist of fate will lead to an act of ultimate betrayal that will tear the friends apart … forever?
Zana Fraillon writes very interesting middle-grade fiction books that blur the line between fantasy and hard-hitting, real world topics. In her previous books she has covered children living in detention centres and child smuggling, and in The Lost Soul Atlas she explores children living on the streets and the exploitation and hardships that come with that.
Told in both the past and present, we begin with Twiggy, who wakes up in the Afterlife with no memories and a raven for a guide and a mysterious Atlas to guide him along his path. In the past, we learn about the events leading up to his waking in the Afterlife, about his missing father, his life on the street and the found family he discovers. It’s a story about loyalty, betrayal and the importance of memories and how they shape who we are.
Admittedly, I found it difficult to get into The Lost Soul Atlas initially, and that may have more to do with reading in ebook format – I think if I could easily jump back and forth between the initially few pages to reread it would have been useful. Because Fraillon throws us straight into the Afterlife sequence with a character who doesn’t remember who he is or how he came to be there, we’re left feeling a little confused, just like Twiggy, which is always an interesting position to be in as a reader, because you have to trust that the author will get you to a level of understanding quickly enough to continue reading – and Fraillon does this really well.
It’s not an easy book to read – I think it’s always a challenge when reading books about children who experience trauma or hardship. It’s confronting to deal with the reality that there are kids who experience this, but Twiggy is a very determined, very capable young person within the story.
I liked the way we jumped backwards and forwards into Twiggy’s past as he recovers his memories while journeying through the Afterlife. I did really enjoy the Afterlife sequences – I think Fraillon came up with a unique perspective and world there that I just wanted to spend more time inside. We get enough information to whet our appetite, but I was left wanting to know more about this ‘afterlife world.’
I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to read The Lost Soul Atlas. Fraillon is definitely one of the most interesting Australian middle-grade authors I’ve read in the last few years, as well as one of the most consistent in terms of quality of writing. I look forward to reading her future releases.