For many summers, Leah has spent school vacation with her aunt and uncle in Chicago. At twelve, she is delighted by the adventures she has playing with T.J., her younger cousin. This summer is different. T.J.’s school experienced a shooting and a classmate was killed. T.J. hasn’t spoken a word since then. He stays in his room. Leah is bewildered and so are his parents. T.J. is in therapy, trying to help him.
We’ve all seen horrendous reports from the schools that have experienced mass shootings. How do the students go back to any kind of normal? What are they thinking? Feeling? Fearing?
Puller has written an empathetic book with a community that wants to help T.J. Wandering outside because she needs companionship, Leah meets Violet, a quirky, self-assured girl her age. Violet observes everything that goes on in the neighborhood, so she’s aware that T.J. leaves the house at night when he’s supposed to be in bed.
Where does he go? The girls follow him to a laundromat (of all places) where Michelle, the owner’s daughter, has him involved in sorting through lost clothing, organizing it, saving it.
Eventually, the three girls create The Land of Lost Things, making puppets out of the lost items, writing stories to enact. They film it for YouTube. T.J. takes such an interest in The Land of Lost Things that he takes part in the puppet shows, speaking. The girls do everything they can to encourage him.
Each scene of this book has stayed with me. It’s cinematic in plot and setting. The characters are loveable and caring. T.J.’s trauma is understandable, believable, and sensitively written. His transition back to the beginnings of emotional stability is not easy. It is heart-wrenching.
I believe this would be a good book to read aloud with your class or book group, discussing a situation that is uppermost in many children’s (and adults’) minds. Creative arts and imagination are essential to T.J.’s and Leah’s healing. And so is the community around them.
The author is a writer, playwright, and a member of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education. She has done research on the social-emotional benefits of arts education with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. With degrees in elementary education and theater, she combined her knowledge to write a compelling middle-grade novel.
The Lost Things Club
written by J.S. Puller
Little, Brown Books