Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea cover

Raleigh and three friends from high school are driving from California back to Canada. Well, they’re not really friends, because Raleigh doesn’t think she has any friends. She also doesn’t think she has a soul, because a cat stole it. Or maybe her mom sold it. It’s not important. Nothing’s important, really.

Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley perfectly captures the uncertainty of teenage ennui, when you don’t know yourself, and you aren’t comfortable with anyone else, and as a result, no one else really knows you.

From the outside, Raleigh would be described as shy, but she doesn’t appear that way once we see how much is going on in her head. She’s trying to understand her life, seizing on fantastic explanations to make something make sense. She’s not only a stranger to herself, but to her companions. They were at school together, but their traveling as a group is an accident more than anything.

Stephanie, the other girl in the group, is pure contrast, someone whose every emotion is expressed, often loudly, while Raleigh is barely able to acknowledge her feelings to herself. The story opposes a range of perceptions of Raleigh from the outside — she’s cool, she’s self-contained, she’s gifted, she’s weird — with her own much more complex internal mindscape.

Lost at Sea cover

Her stream of consciousness internal monologues are mixed with well-chosen incidents among the four kids. Their interaction sounds like realistic teenage conversation, only without the tics and gimmicks that others mistake for realism and without the tedious repetition that real dialogue contains. The monologues are similarly never boring or self-indulgent. They establish a rhythm, a kind of prose poetry, combined with beautifully simple images.

The kids have the strange blank eyes and blocky heads of Lego figures, yet they’re expressive and distinctive. The storytelling is very accomplished, especially from a relatively new creator. The figures are somewhat androgynous, but gender matters a lot to their interactions, coming up in unexpected ways.

The book is also about the nature of friendship, how it develops without notice based on shared experience, and how having things in common can be more of a problem than a benefit. This is an amazingly dense and deep book, with much revealed upon further examination, like an onion. I wish I had been able to read it when I was in high school, because I could have used the wisdom.


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