Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card
Fourteen-year-old Ezekiel has a special power. Not a superpower; though, just a small power: he’s drawn to lost items — hair scrunchies, toys, and even bikes — combined with the innate knowledge of who the owners are and where to go to return the items, and a strong compulsion to return them. Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked out so well for Ezekiel: everyone thinks he stole the things and returned them for the attention or a reward. He’s got quite a file with the police by the time he’s a teenager, and that, combined with his mother’s tragic death when he was four, has made Ezekiel an embittered social pariah. Ezekiel’s actual last name is Bliss, but in his own mind he calls himself Ezekiel Blast.
So when Beth, a tiny classmate with proportionate dwarfism, insists on joining him on his lonely walk to and from school, he actively tries to discourage her overtures of friendship. And when a detective begs him to try to use his talent to find a missing six-year-old girl, Ezekiel does his best to shut that down too. In any case, as he explains to Detective Shank, his power doesn’t work on anything living. But sometimes it’s not so easy to say no, either to friendship or an urgent request for help. With Beth’s and others’ help, Ezekiel starts to explore ways to expand the usefulness of his micropower … an exploration that’s kicked into higher gear when another terrible event occurs.
In Lost and Found (2019), Orson Scott Card begins with a superpowered teenager and a mystery, a common enough theme, but approaches it from a different direction and with unusual thoughtfulness for the genre. Card’s works frequently feature an intelligent person with unusual talents who is having trouble fitting into society (and typically that’s society’s problem, not the individual’s). As a result, the dialogue is sharp and witty, if a little unrealistic.
“Now I am an efflorescent adolescent.”
Beth whooped in delight. “Efflorescent adolescent,” she repeated. Then her lips moved as she subvocalized it several times. “Such a cool euphemism for acne.”
“So you have to move your lips to memorize.”
“Memory is more about sound than sight, and more about kinetics than optics,” said Beth.
I’m not sure who really speaks like that, especially if they’re teenagers, but it does make for interesting reading. Ezekiel, in his justifiable bitterness, goes overboard with his snark and even some quite rude name-calling. But the heartening part is that he has people around him who are willing to dig past his surliness to find the lonely person within who needs their care and understanding. This novel makes several worthwhile points about values like trust, friendship and love.
“I’m really sorry. I was so focused on that lost girl, and I only just now got it that we lost you a long time ago.”
Too many young adult novels have parents and other adults who are either absent or oblivious, but Ezekiel’s father (a butcher, not a doctor or lawyer) is actively involved in Ezekiel’s life, communicates with him in a meaningful way, and actually joins Ezekiel and helps when events reach their crisis point. It’s almost stunning. This sensitivity and attention to interpersonal relationships and characters’ deeper motivations are another distinguishing point in Card’s works, and I generally come away feeling enriched. Lost and Found is a much different story than Ender’s Game or Speaker for the Dead, but you can tell they’re by the same author, and all are thought-provoking science fiction.
Though Lost and Found has a pair of young teens as its main characters, it’s written on an older level and there are disturbing elements to the plot. Detective Shank tells Ezekiel, fairly early on, that young girls are being kidnapped by guys for child pornography and snuff film purposes, and that plays out in the plot. The punches are pulled to some extent, since this is a YA novel, but it’s not for very young or sensitive readers.