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Lost Boy

by Shelley Hrdlitschka

Seventeen-year-old Jon Nielsson has spent his entire life in Unity, a faith-based polygamous sect. He has already started to question the religion he has been brought up in since childhood when he is discovered kissing a girl from the community. Men are not allowed physical contact with a woman until they are given a wife by the leader of the sect; so Jon decides to leave rather than be publicly shunned and kicked out.

Estranged from the only life he knows, Jon joins a group of other “Lost Boys” who either left or were kicked out of Unity and who now share a house. Although completely unprepared for life outside the sect, Jon does his best to adjust. Dyeing his hair, watching television, visiting a library, and wearing shorts are all new experiences for him. However, when he returns to school, he finds his education lacking – in Unity, he completed his studies at age 14. Despite his best efforts, he finds his new school too difficult and drops out, quickly falling into a life of drugs, alcohol, and petty crime. After several months spent living on the street, Jon is ready to give up completely. When an opportunity presents itself to help the girl he left behind in Unity, Jon must decide whether to pick himself up and start again or continue down his path of self-destruction.

The novel is divided into two parts. In the first, readers become familiar with Jon’s innocent and determined side. His dramatic shift to drugs and alcohol in the latter half effectively illustrates the pit of hopelessness into which the character descends, but this tonal shift is jarring and leaves the reader feeling slightly disconnected. We want to know more about the specifics of Jon’s downward spiral. Hrdlitschka provides a satisfying conclusion that is hopeful yet realistic and leaves readers with no doubt that Jon still has a lot of work ahead of him.

Well written and thoroughly researched, Lost Boy offers a brief but thorough look into religious polygamy and cult dynamics in a realistic and matter-of-fact way. While it is technically a sequel to Hrdlitschka’s novel Sister Wife, Lost Boy works well as a stand-alone.