Sixteen-year-old Holly Liddell died in 1987, but she didn’t stay dead. Elton, her ethereally beautiful vampire boyfriend turned her into the undead, luring her in with the promise of an eternal life as his beloved. Thirty years later, he ditched her without a thought or care. Things had been bad for a long time, but Holly kept finding excuses to stay. Being dumped was bad enough, but being a vampire means she’s also stuck trailing behind her maker, following him from town to town. She cannot and does not want to get back together with Elton but is also unable to set down roots or build a new life without him.
Now Elton has dragged her back to her hometown, and the past suddenly becomes the present. Holly is killing time (and customers) at a dead end fast food job when she meets Ida and Rose. Elton always told Holly she was his first love and the only person he’d ever turned, but that’s not even close to true. He whispered the same empty vows to Rose in the 1950s and Ida before that in the 1920s. And just like with Holly, he eventually tired of them and moved on. The girls pull Holly into their plot to free themselves from his toxic existence once and for all, but time is running short. Elton is on the hunt again, and has set his sights on another lost girl, lonely high school student Parker Kerr. To save Parker from a fate worse than death and stop Elton for good, Holly and her new friends must make a terrible choice, one that can never be undone and that will alter their undead lives forever.
The Lost Girls may be a quick read, but it’s not superficial or meaningless. Readers could take this novel as a fun, frothy story about a young woman getting back at her asshole ex boyfriend while falling for his cute new love interest. But I hope they look a little deeper to see the book’s beating heart. Sonia Hartl steps beyond the tropes of the jilted lover and revenge fantasies to deliver a young adult fantasy novel dealing with abusive relationships and the complex and often seemingly contradictory ways people find to survive in and out of them.
Make no mistake: Elton is an abuser. He picks vulnerable girls who already feel ostracized from the world, girls who feel unloved and unwanted, and showers them with charm and attention. He twists their minds around his little finger and makes them think he is the only person in the universe who will ever care about them. He feels entitled to their bodies, always on his terms and always at his whims. And when he decides to shine his spotlight on someone else, it’s like their world goes dark. For Holly, Elton was everything until he suddenly wasn’t. His presence haunts her and she can’t move on, not until she confronts the lies he told her and the wishes she desperately wanted to believe.
A story like this could go one of two routes: heavy on the action or heavy on the characters. Despite the title, a reference to the 1987 vampire flick The Lost Boys, the book is solidly in the latter category. While there are high-tension fight scenes and lots of casual killing of humans, the bulk of the narrative is character driven. We learn a lot about Holly—her feelings, regrets, hopes, and fears—and how she interprets her relationships with others through her internal narration.
The Lost Girls isn’t a quiet book, but it is contemplative. It doesn’t shy away from gore and dismemberment, but the violence isn’t really the point. Despite the description, this isn’t really a story about a girl killing her abusive ex; it’s about a girl finding her truth and taking her life back. Ending Elton’s afterlife will satisfy his ex girlfriends and end his reign of terror, but it won’t fix the psychological damage he did to Holly or make her feel better about herself.
As Ida and Rose research and plan, Holly gets to know Parker. At first, Holly hopes to convince the living girl to walk away from Elton, but the more time the girls spend together the more intertwined their hearts become. Parker’s fantasies veer toward the grand romance of fairy tales or Twilight, but Holly is more practical and wizened. She knows all too well the high cost of becoming a vampire, as her relationship with Parker makes painfully clear.
Sonia Hartl’s The Lost Girls fits nicely into the YA fantasy canon of feminist stories where queer found families stand up to and smack down cruel men. It’s an ode to feminist empowerment, queer love, and the power of friendship. It’s also bloody, campy, and wickedly entertaining, a tasty treat for a crisp autumn evening.
The Lost Girls is available from Page Street Publishing.
Alex Brown is an Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).