The Lost Language

Holiday House/Margaret Ferguson Bks. Oct. 2021. 304p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780823450381.
Gr 4 Up–Reserved Betsy trails in the wake of two domineering women in her life: her mother and her BFF, Lizard. Mom, a career-obsessed linguistics professor, has little time for Betsy or her devoted father. Mom’s not fond of Lizard, whom she (ironically) thinks is too controlling. Betsy is aware of the imbalance in both relationships, but isn’t ready to challenge them yet. In an effort to please Betsy’s mother, the friends launch a club at their middle school to “save” a dying European language. The club fails, but sets Betsy on a path of making new friends. Alienated, Lizard retaliates by revealing to classmates that Betsy’s mother has just attempted suicide. The author doesn’t expand the verse format beyond standard line arrangement and the language lacks the imagery of Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again. But Betsy’s first-person narration is engaging and will speak to the many young readers who feel quashed by stronger personalities all around them. It’s a pivotal moment of acceptance when Betsy’s father observes, “sometimes someone who is quiet/ has their spunk and spirit/ deep inside, like a hidden treasure.” The novel ends on a realistic, satisfying note as Betsy’s family moves forward—together—and she and Lizard reach a new understanding. Race of the main characters is not described. Back matter hints at a possible meaning of the novel’s title: the language we must never lose is the words to tell those we love how we truly feel.
VERDICT Empowering and heartfelt; recommended for all middle grade collections.

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