I love talking with people; hardly a surprise to those who know me. One of the main draws of any story, be it history or fiction, are those experiences people feel comfortable enough to share with me. The flavor of their life stories flow through them, creating unique narratives and taking shape in my mind. I cherish the opportunities to share those intimacies with them, not just as individuals, but as people.
Throughout Sophie Chen Keller’s debut novel The Luster of Lost Things, this simple concept in expanded on in delightful new ways. We’re introduced to Walter Lavender Jr., a little boy suffering from a motor speech disorder, meaning he struggles to voice the words in his mind as his muscles won’t cooperate. He spends most of his time in his mother’s magical bakery shop, called The Lavenders, playing with Milton, his fat golden retriever, and helps to bake fresh goodies every morning. Yum!
The magic of the shop stems from the Book, a gift given to Walter’s mother that’s overflowing with pictures. The Book is the heart of the bakery, bringing the entire shop to life each morning in the form of marzipan dragons who breathe fire and candy mice who squeak at customers.
Walter’s life revolves around this shop, but one day the Book goes missing when a new landlord takes over, taking the magic with it. Before time runs out, Milton and Walter have to retrieve the book and bring it back to the bakery so the magic can return.
After reading the synopsis of The Luster of Lost Things, my only expectation was a simple narrative about a boy and his dog. I didn’t expect to get so caught up in Walter and Milton’s adventure I would stay up until three o’clock in the morning reading about these two trapezing around New York City. Even after the last page had been turned, I still craved more from this story.
Parts of Walter’s adventure I cherished most were the colorful characters he met on his journey and his interactions with them. He finds himself forced into situations where silence isn’t an option and he has to speak his mind to be heard. When he encounters an elderly woman trying to make a connection with her blind grandson, Walter steps in to help bridge the gap between them. Each small interaction showing him a way to communicate and make himself heard not always through his words, but actions.
Each person Walter meets has their own story to tell, like falling on hard times or losing a loved one. These separate narratives is where the book shines and immersed me in Walter’s adventure. Each time I found myself reading with baited breath, listening with my heart to the story of each person this boy meets on his journey. When Walter meets a homeless man in a subway station trying to get by I found myself sympathizing with this man. He talks about being fired from his job and losing someone he loves which is why he ended up in the situation he’s in now.
I could relate the to the hopelessness he must feel about every door he came too being closed to him without any way out. Who doesn’t at least once in their life feel stuck with no way to move forward? And that’s just one of the examples of the kind of stories Walter comes to hear from each new person he meets in New York City.
I don’t know if it’s the delicious descriptions of baked goods or the genuine emotion behind each character we meet that charmed me, but The Luster of Lost Things gave me a sense of nostalgia for places I’ve never been too and for people I’ve never met. Or maybe it’s the luster of those lost – and then found – bits of ordinary magic that lent a simple, human beauty to this beautiful story from an author worth keeping an eye on.