One Was Lost is a YA survival thriller/mystery written by Natalie D. Richards which was published in 2016. It centers on four teenagers who are on a camping trip with a group from their school when, long story short, things go terribly wrong.
The novel centers mainly on four main characters—Sera, Lucas, Emily, and Jude. While on a school camping trip with some other students and two teachers, they get separated from the rest of the group, as well as from their food and water supply.
That in and of itself is pretty terrible, so you’d think things can’t get much worse, right?
Wrong. So wrong.
After the flash flooding that separated the group, the students wake the next morning only to find that not only are they in danger due to their struggle to survive in the woods, but that they’re also in danger at the hands of another person—someone who is stalking them, destroying their means of communicating with the outside world, and manipulating them. This person has, for reasons the characters can’t possibly fathom, drugged them and written on them while they were unconscious. And this isn’t your typical “draw phallic images on the passed out guy with a Sharpie” type writing. Their stalker has penned a different word starting with the letter “D” on the inside of each of the main character’s wrists: Lucas has the word “dangerous”, Emily receives the word “damaged”, Jude is marked with the word “deceptive”, and Sera gets the word “darling” (a stark difference in tone from the other three, which definitely comes into play later in the book).
That quickly, our main characters are tasked with the issue of figuring out how to survive and find their way out of the woods, as well as the need to unravel the mystery of who drugged them, wrote on them, and seems to be watching their every move—and why.
I’m going to talk about a few key aspects of the book and give you my thoughts on each of them—and don’t worry, I’ll warn you when there’s spoilers coming.
Plot & Concept
The overall concept and idea of One Was Lost is probably one of its strongest attributes. Survival fiction in general is really interesting, but I was especially drawn in by the fact that the main characters here are people who have absolutely no survival training whatsoever—most of them don’t even have much experience with camping. Survival fiction in the YA form is especially compelling, because YA often deals with young people who are coming into their own and learning about themselves. Imagine going through all that and having to figure out how to survive in the woods and outsmart a possibly psychotic stalker. It’s quite a full plate.
On top of that, the overall mystery is very compelling. The idea of the characters waking up with the words written on them and having no idea of their meaning or implications, not to mention their source, is one of the main things which drew me (and likely many other readers) to the book. The characters are bonded by the fact that they all received these mystery words, and they all seem to be connected somehow, but they are simultaneously torn apart by using the words to think the worst of each other—by wondering why each one of them got the labels they did. Is Lucas really “dangerous”? Could Emily’s state of being “damaged” drive her to do this to them? Is Jude deceiving them? Or could Sera be behind it? After all, while everyone else got insulting words, Sera is considered a “darling”. The idea that the characters have to work all this out and face off against the real culprit is an extremely interesting overall idea. Whether or not it was applied well throughout the book…well, we’ll get to that.
One thing I will mention that is noteworthy about the main cast of characters is that they are actually very diverse. Two of the four main characters are people of color, and one of the main characters—though never confirming his sexuality—does speak pretty openly about how his classmates’ speculation about his sexuality (prompted largely by the fact that he has two dads) has affected him over the years. It was refreshing to see characters with these diverse distinctions, representing people from several walks of life.
As far as character development itself, it was a little dicey in some parts. One Was Lost is a very plot driven book, with much of the focus on surviving the woods and solving the mystery and getting out of there alive. But character development is very important to me as a reader, so I was a little disappointed to see some of that get lost amongst the complex plot points.
Speaking more specifically, I actually felt that only three of the four characters got a decent amount of development, whereas Emily sort of faded into the background and we didn’t get to know her very well. Toward the end of the book, we get a bit of a dump of information about her, but overall, the development seemed wildly disproportionate.
Sera, our main character, is developed quite differently from the other three characters in the group. While the other three characters are largely developed through the way they relate to each other and the things they reveal about their lives, Sera is actually the one narrating the story, so we get to know her in a slightly different way. Unfortunately, I found her characterization somewhat confusing. She really talks about her mom a lot, and for me the whole “mommy issues” portion of her personality just did not add up. Sera has a previous relationship with Lucas, and is still really attracted to him, which is a major component of the book, and she classifies herself as being a person who likes to be in control of a situation. She often references her work as a director in their school’s theater department, and how when she is with Lucas, who is kind of the “bad boy”, she feels less in control and struggles with that. That all makes sense to me. But for some reason, in addition to that, she periodically brings up how her mom left her and her dad and how she doesn’t want people to think she is like her mother. For me, I felt like I was on board with her character development as far as the lack of control, but once she brought up her mother, it seemed a bit forced and unnatural. It felt like when you’re talking to someone who really wants to bring up one specific topic, whether it has anything to do with the current conversation or not. Like that one girl you know who went to Trinidad one time and literally will not stop telling you about it, even though you already know she went to Trinidad—and so does everyone she’s ever spoken to.
But I have to admit, that of all the characters in this book, my favorite has to be Lucas. I know a lot of people get tired of the “tortured bad boy” trope in YA literature, and I suppose I can’t blame them, but I just…don’t. I do not tire of it, and I love Lucas as this “bad boy” with a heart of gold. Right off the bat, I thought there was definitely something going on beneath the surface with him, and I loved getting to know what there was beneath the “tough guy” exterior.
The pacing for the first two thirds of this book is pretty good, and is perhaps a large part of the reason why I really liked only the first two thirds of the book. Throughout the first two acts or so, there’s a steady stream of things happening that keep your attention very well, and each new development is appropriately distributed to really keep your interest and keep you wondering what on earth could possibly be going on. Numbers start showing up carved into trees near their camp or made out of sticks on the ground, and they seem to be counting down to something. They find little dolls made of sticks and scraps of fabric that are designed to look like them, as if they’re little voodoo dolls or something. Then, once their sick teacher, Mr. Walker, finally wakes up, they begin to suspect him of being responsible for all the weird things, which really ratchets up the tension. All in all, it results in a suspenseful book that kept me reading and kept me trying to solve the mystery.
And then, it all kind of spirals out of control…but not in a good way.
And now would be the time for me to tell you, there are about to be major spoilers ahead.
The way I feel about this book is exactly the way I feel about the show Pretty Little Liars. It started out really good and seemed really interesting and then at the end it really seemed like the writers said to themselves, “Oh shit, we don’t actually have a plan, let’s throw something together really quickly.” As a result, the ending just makes no sense and is overall weird and disappointing.
It turns out the person who drugged them and wrote on them and has been mentally torturing them as they make their way through the woods is none other than Ms. Brighton, the other teacher chaperoning their camping trip, who the four main characters were separated from during the flash flood at the very beginning of the book. And I just do not understand this choice.
First of all, Ms. Brighton was in the book for about forty seconds at the beginning, so it really comes out of left field. While I’m sure that’s exactly what the author was going for, it comes out of left field in more of a “what the hell?” way than in a “wow, what a great plot twist” way.
But the reasoning behind Ms. Brighton’s being the villain in question is far more confusing, and possibly some of the worst justification for becoming a villain/psycho killer that I’ve ever seen in any book, movie, or TV show…ever.
Brace yourselves, y’all.
Apparently, the reason Ms. Brighton wants to kill them is because in these exact woods, eighteen years ago, her stepsister, Hannah, went on a camping trip with three other teenagers, and Hannah died. Ms. Brighton blames the other three teenagers who were with her for her Hannah’s death. She wants to kill these four current teenagers, because Sera reminds her of Hannah, and the other three remind her of the three people she was with.
All of a sudden the author paints Ms. Brighton as this stark raving lunatic who just wants to kill people who vaguely remind her of some people from eighteen years ago who were with her stepsister when something bad happened? And she also wants to kill the person who reminds her of her stepsister, so that she can reenact the death?
And why would that require her to drug them all and write on their wrists? Why all the theatrics? Why not just kill them, if that was the intention all along?
Overall, I felt that the ending completely derailed the book. I was so disappointed, and just felt it was the worst conclusion we could have possibly come to. The rest of the book was fairly strong, and the ending just seemed thrown together and poorly thought out by comparison. I didn’t understand Ms. Brighton’s motivation at all—and I refuse to accept “she’s just crazy!” as a motivation for any of my bad guys.
I definitely tried to look past how much I hated the ending of this book, but it was difficult. Some endings just have a way of putting a bad taste in your mouth regarding the entire book, and this was one of those endings.
Despite how much I disliked the ending, and how confusing I found some of the character development, One Was Lost was certainly not without its strong points. I enjoyed the diversity of the characters and, as previously mentioned, I liked Lucas a lot. The survival portion of the book was very interesting, and overall, the mystery was a really compelling driving force until we reached the conclusion.
If I were to give this book a star rating, I’d give it three out of five stars, because although there were many things I liked about the book, the things that I disliked were things I really, really disliked.
So, what did you all think? Have any of you read One Was Lost? Were you as disappointed in the ending as I was? Leave your thoughts in the comments down below! I’d love to talk. <3