Desert Isle Keeper
The Lost Girls of Devon
From the time I was an infant, I’ve loved my maternal grandmother better than pretty much anyone else I can think of, so I knew I absolutely had to read the latest novel by Barbara O’Neal. The Lost Girls of Devon is about a woman who returns home to find her missing best friend, but even more importantly, to help her grandmother deal with the dementia she’s recently been diagnosed with. From the start of the book, I was utterly captivated by Ms. O’Neal’s writing. The struggles of her characters resonated very deeply with me, and I’m so glad I picked this book up, even though it’s not always an easy read.
It’s been years since Zoe Fairchild has visited the small village where she grew up. She’s in close touch with Lillian, the grandmother who raised her, but Devon holds disturbing memories Zoe isn’t quite ready to face. Plus, Poppy, the mother who abandoned Zoe at the age of seven, has returned to town, and Zoe is determined to stay as far from her as possible.
All that changes when Lillian calls Zoe, telling her that Diana, Zoe’s childhood best friend, has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. Lillian begs Zoe to come home in order to help with the search, and Zoe grudgingly agrees. She and her fifteen-year-old daughter Isabel pack up and head to Devon where Zoe will be forced to come face-to-face with all manner of ghosts from her past.
When Zoe arrives at her grandmother’s house, she is instantly struck by how frail Lillian appears. It’s obvious she’s dealing with some memory issues, and it doesn’t take Zoe long to realize she won’t be able to return home the way she initially planned. Instead, she’s going to have to help care for Lillian as she grows increasingly more forgetful.
As Zoe begins digging into Diana’s life in hopes of uncovering some hidden fact about her disappearance, she is forced to join forces with Sage Cooper, her first love, and the boy she betrayed nearly twenty years before. Both Zoe and Cooper are determined to learn what happened to their missing friend, and it doesn’t take them long to put the past behind them and fall back into the kind of close relationship they’d once enjoyed. I really appreciated this aspect of the story, since there was a lot of room for angst here, and I worried I would get frustrated by their inability to make amends. Fortunately, Cooper and Zoe are both relatively self-aware, and neither seemed willing to hold drawn out grudges.
Some might call this novel a mystery, but despite the search for Diana taking up quite a bit of the page count, The Lost Girls of Devon is first and foremost a story about relationships. Lillian, Poppy, Zoe, and Isabel each have some kind of internal struggle to contend with, something they’re not dealing with very well on their own. Finding peace will require each of them to come to terms with the mistakes she’s made in her past, something that proves more difficult than any of them expect.
Poppy was the only character I struggled to like. She abandoned Zoe at the age of seven and made a new life for herself in India, and when she eventually returns home, she expects Zoe to instantly forgive her. No one, aside from Zoe herself, seems to hold Poppy’s selfishness against her, and I found myself more than a little annoyed by her inability to understand why her daughter wasn’t ready and waiting to repair their relationship. Fortunately, Poppy does wise up toward the end of the book, and I was able to empathize with her a bit, but she definitely was not my favorite person.
One of the very best things about Barbara O’Neal’s writing is her ability to transport readers to whatever setting she’s describing. Here, the Devon countryside feels incredibly real, almost like a character in its own right. It’s a part of the world I’ve never visited, but reading Ms. O’Neal’s vivid descriptions really is the next best thing. Not all authors possess the ability to bring a setting to life in this way, and I’m so glad Ms. O’Neal continues to share her amazing talent with the world.
There’s a lot more I could say about this book and all the complicated feelings it evoked in me, but I don’t want to risk ruining the magic for you. This is by far my favorite of the author’s many books, and I hope many of you will pick it up and fall in love with it the way I did. It’s a deep book, but I never felt overwhelmed by the complexity of the plot, and I hope women’s fiction fans everywhere will give it the chance it deserves.