Trigger Warnings: plane crash, death, violence, suicide
Does the dog die? No!
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When a plane bound for Costa Rica crashes in deep jungle, the tail section breaks free and nineteen teenagers miraculously survive. Joel Aspinall, son of a local politician and student rep on the school’s council, is quick to take on the mantle of leadership, to organize everyone until a rescue party arrives. But the plane was crashed on purpose, no one knows where they are and no rescuers are coming. To make things worse, Joel’s decisions lead to more people dying, and he’s determined to wait it out.
Tom Calloway didn’t want to be on this trip. Tom doesn’t want to bond with his classmates – he isn’t the bonding type. He’d rather they just left him alone, and he’s always been unfriendly enough that they’ve been happy to oblige. But that was before the crash. Now he finds himself building the friendships he’s always tried to avoid. And despite his determined efforts to be left alone, he begins to see that he might be the one to challenge Joel and pull off another miracle, by getting all the survivors to safety.
When We Were Lost, featuring elements of Lost and Lord of the Flies, is a novel of survival, of teenagers thrust into a hostile environment. It’s a novel of life and death and the razor-thin dividing line between them. And it’s a novel about finding a place for yourself in a world that’s infinitely complex.
I was honestly so hyped for When We Were Lost. I’m a sucker for a good survival story, especially one that’s being compared to both Lost and Lord of the Flies, but to say I was disappointed would be an understatement. Really the only similarity between this novel and the above is a plane crash leaving the characters stranded in an unknown location. That’s it. Which really left me unsatisfied.
First, let’s talk about the characters. The vast majority of them had the most common white names possible, which made them blur together. It also didn’t help that they all had the same amount of personality as a plain piece of stale bread that was left on the counter for a couple of days. There was absolutely nothing special about a single one of them. I wasn’t able to form an emotional connection to anybody, which coupled with the fact that I couldn’t tell them apart thanks to their generic names, left me uncaring when one would die.
Speaking of character deaths, if you look at the cover for this book, you can plainly see the question “who becomes a killer?” Because of this, in addition to the survival theme, I was expecting some sort of murder mystery undertone thrown in too, but nope. I did almost say that not a single murder takes place, but then I remembered (and to avoid potential spoilers I’ll keep it vague) that there was one character that did that one thing, but it’s just not what somebody expects at all after reading the little attention grabber on the cover, and it’s such a let down.
Thankfully, this is a pretty quick read. I was able to get through the entire thing in about half a day. You’d think though that since it is a quick read and a survival story that it would be jam-packed full of action, but you’d be wrong. We are thrown right into the story without very much build up, but the actual plane crash was pretty glossed over, ending almost as soon as it begins. Throughout the rest of the novel, even though serious things are happening, there just wasn’t enough oomph behind anything. Maybe it was because I didn’t care about the characters or maybe it was bad writing, but everything fell flat. The ending was also so rushed. The characters were trekking through the jungle for a week until suddenly they came to a town and then within a matter of ten to fifteen pages everything was okay again.
The plot really wasn’t all that bad until the epilogue when we find out why the plane crashed. A big theme of this book is the butterfly effect. One thing leads to another, and the pilot of the plane finds out he has cancer. This causes him to become depressed and suicidal, and since he has no reason to live because cancer will eventually kill him anyway, he decides to crash the plane. It is 2019. I’m so tired of depression and suicide being handled this way. My mental illness does not exist for authors to turn it into plot points and use it as the villain’s motive. This has to stop.
If you enjoy survival stories, and the synopsis of this one sparks your interest, then I encourage you to read it. I saw several people on Goodreads who really enjoyed this one, so maybe it’s just me having too high of expectations and being nitpicky because of it. Other than the way mental illness was handled and the lack of diversity, I didn’t find anything else that seemed problematic, so I don’t want to discourage anybody from giving When We Were Lost a try. Not every book is for every reader, and that’s okay. Since this wasn’t one for me, maybe (hopefully) it will be for you.