“The Library of Lost and Found” by Phaedra Patrick. New York: Park Row, 2020. 368 pages, $16.99.
Librarian Martha Storm connects easier with books than people, though she is always trying. Her superhero-themed notebook is full of lists of tasks she needs to accomplish to help others, and yet she feels invisible. When a book of fairy tales arrives on her library’s doorstep with her name on it, her life begins to change. Inside is a dedication written to her by her grandmother, who was her best friend, but it was dated years after when Martha thought she had died. When she discovers her grandmother may still be alive, she begins the quest to find her and the truth. She unearths a family secret that will change her, and her sister, forever.
One of the main things that intrigued me throughout the book was Martha’s personal issues and flaws. The author makes no bones about discussing the difficulties Martha faces in saying “no” (something I struggle with), nor the issues she has surrounding her current life. Martha is middle-aged and facing the hard truth that she is in a rut, and she is unhappy with a life that veered far off course from where she wanted it to be. Sometimes it’s frustrating because Martha’s tone can be so low, but as more is revealed about her past it is easy to understand her thoughts and feelings. You certainly are rooting for the main character.
I loved several of the characters in general. Martha’s friend at the library is a hoot, and as she progresses through the story there are others she meets whom you generally will like. There is small romance that luckily doesn’t become the main focus of the plot. Truly, it is the mystery of her grandmother and her own past that has the momentum in this story. Martha’s interactions with others, especially her sister, help her figure out who she is and the missing pieces of her past. One person will even play a surprisingly large role toward the end, and that was one of my favorite moments in the whole book.
That said, there are a few characters to hate as well. I really wanted Martha to file a lawsuit against the library director. Her father was a piece of work. Her sister is somewhat hard to figure out and like in the beginning. There are certainly several different characters that experience growth throughout the book, and I think it is a great thing to read.
Martha is taken advantage of by her so-called friends quite often through most of the story. It is frustrating to see how much she wants to help others, her problems with saying “no” and how few actually help or do anything for her in return. It becomes apparent she lost herself in taking care of her parents. Now years later, she is realizing how much time passed, and how wrapped up she became in their routine and making things easier for them. This is something probably quite a few people can relate to, as caretakers often lose so much time for themselves. There is a slight romance to the story, but it never takes over.
It is a nice added touch throughout whenever it does come up. Romance plays a part in the past stories, and for Martha herself.
The scenery and setting overall are done extremely well. On the coast, the ocean is described, as well as the little seaside town. It is a place I would love to visit, and a great read for the summer when stuck inside far from any bodies of water. It makes for a magical setting, especially when you add in the library. Patrick writes her descriptions of the various locations and the library and bookstores with the perfect amount of detail.
One of the best things about this book is the attention to the library. Martha volunteers in their library, which is open fewer hours than expected, and hopes to get a job there. In following Martha around the library, it is quick to see all the things this little library does for its town. From providing a haven for people to hang out in, to book clubs and social events, to helping people find DIY information, or to applying for jobs, the library fills so many more roles. Throughout the story, you see so many examples of this and it is one of the main aspects I enjoyed about it.
The main plot of the story revolves around the mystery of Martha’s grandmother, Zelda. Zelda supposedly died years before the date she signed the book of fairy tales. Martha is determined to figure out how this has happened, and she slowly uncovers a family secret and issues she had locked away. In trying to find the truth, she learns more about herself and her childhood as well. There were a few times I wanted to yell at Martha to do the right thing or quit doubting herself. While I loved the fact that she had flaws, it could also be rather annoying if reading for long periods of time. Just be happy Martha or say “no!” (I may get too involved). There were a few questions that felt unanswered – mainly revolving around the grandmother’s life – but overall it was very enjoyable.
SPOILER ALERT – Warning – Emotional Abuse. Martha’s father is what I would catalog as emotionally abusive to not only her mother, but also to her and her sister in some ways. He is controlling and very manipulative. He does not allow Martha’s mother to work, he controls what they read, and uses emotions and suggestions to make everyone do what he wants. For anyone who has experience with this, it is upsetting to a greater degree. END ALERT.
Patrick is an award-winning short story writer and is now writing full time. “The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper” was her debut novel and was translated into more than 20 languages worldwide. You can find out more about her at www.phaedra-patrick.com.
You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter (@phaedrapatrick) and Instagram (@PhaedraPatrick).
– Reviewed by Fallon Willoughby, first-year experience instructor, Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College.