Jen Doll comes to the blog today with her debut young adult fiction, set in the south. Please read on for my review of
A bit unsure about the premise, but curious enough to check it out, Doll uses her three characters all brought together as they work in a summer job at Unclaimed Baggage – the store that sells the luggage and contents of the bags that were lost and unclaimed from the airlines. Of course, the bags and the items they contain have unknowable stories – and Doll weaves some of the ‘possible theories’ of the origins to help these three work out their own issues and struggles.
Nell is the newly transplanted “yankee” from Chicago – moved just at the start of summer and leaving behind her friends and boyfriend, her mother has decided that Nell needs a job, and fortunately the first person she meets at the new job is Doris. Local girl Doris is singularly unique, with her own history of ‘mot fitting in’ and some embarrassing moments that she is trying to live down. When you add in her grief from the loss of her aunt Stella, and her determination to be a ‘connector’ for those who need it as a sort of homage to her aunt, the warm welcome for Nell, and the quiet sympatico of their political leanings (both being more liberal than the norm) these two are soon friendly, on their way to fast friends.
But all is not smooth waters there – enter Grant, the high school football star who’s reputation and issues are piling up. With his drinking finally brought to light, his stardom, girlfriend and way are all in jeopardy – but his mother quietly steps in and gets him a summer job with Nell and Cora. Cora and Grant have a history, most of it not particularly flattering to either of them, but in a move that is far beyond her years, Cora welcomes Grant into the little group with grace and style that shows her determination to change and the power of acceptance for Grant.
Unlike other stories that are YA in focus, these are three teens who aren’t texting and boy crazy, there isn’t a real “romance’ in the mix, no triangles and no posturing. Instead, as they unpack the cases and play about with stories and possible histories of the items, they also start to unpack their own issues, getting advice, support and even some solutions from the others. The mix of voices simply adds to the immediacy and ingrained nature of the issues they face – and none of the issues are small ones. Together the three deal with drinking and the issues it causes with double-standards and its place as in high school culture, sexual assault, grief and loss, racism and even the ever-pervasive Christian dogma that is omnipresent and often unquestioned (or questioned with piling on shame) that they all are facing, together and separately. Thoughtful and perceptive observations, conversations that mean something, and a true bond is built for these three, upending what seems to be a prevalent notion of teens not being interested or able to dissect the world and the forces that are often placed on them with unexpected consequences. My one issue with the story as a whole was the tendency to get a bit heavy-handed with accentuating the ‘differences’ between the three, and while the ‘not all ___ are bad people message was clear, the organic development of this group of characters highlighted those moments far better than a blatant statement could possibly accomplish. A solid debut sure to please readers who want something a little different from their YA reads.
Title: Unclaimed Baggage
Author: Jen Doll
Genre: Contemporary YA Fiction
Published by: Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Published on: 18 September, 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Doris--a lone liberal in a conservative small town--has mostly kept to herself since the terrible waterslide incident a few years ago. Nell had to leave behind her best friends, perfect life, and too-good-to-be-true boyfriend in Chicago to move to Alabama. Grant was the star quarterback and epitome of "Mr. Popular" whose drinking problem has all but destroyed his life. What do these three have in common? A summer job working in a store called Unclaimed Baggage cataloging and selling other people's lost luggage. Together they find that through friendship, they can unpack some of their own emotional baggage and move on into the future.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.