Seventh-grader Denny “Donuts” Murphy is lost, and just can’t seem to find himself. His mom – who happened to be everybody’s favorite mom – died three months ago, and the slow, grinding grieving process is in full swing. Denny deals with his emotions by acting out at school. Overly-glib remarks, crazy behavior and unnecessarily antagonistic conversations fill his days, often leading to detentions and trips to the principal’s office. Author Matt Blackstone walks us through a month of Denny’s life in Sorry, You’re Lost, a complicated, memorable, and often-difficult tween novel.
Denny’s brainy best friend Manny presents a scheme that forms the backdrop for the book: get dates for the upcoming 7th grade dance by making themselves more appealing. And these guys are the first to admit, it’s a long trip to popularity. The plan includes new hairstyles and wardrobes to become more attractive, and fancy dinners, limo rides, and a swanky after-party to create a perfect date night. How could an 8th grade girl refuse? Of course, all this takes money, so Manny and Denny begin a high-volume underground candy business to raise the funds. Easily swayed by grief and a sense of loyalty to his lifelong pal, Denny goes along with the chauvinistic plot.
And that’s the challenge. There are basically two very strong story elements: Denny’s grief, and the comical candy scheme. Add to that a couple of important subplots: Denny’s attraction to a snarky under-the-radar girl in his English class, and his relationship with his grief-stricken father, and there’s a lot competing for the reader’s attention. Blackstone does a good job of intertwining the elements, but a lot of plates are spinning in the air. More seasoned authors would probably limit the diverse plot lines. The book seems about 50 pages too long. The chapters involving Manny’s scheme to find dates for the boys are repetitive and could certainly be trimmed.
Although the plot segments are a bit disjointed, Blackstone shows skill in each genre. The candy scheme is funny, although the character Manny is just a bit too over-the-top. The girlfriend sections are sweet and sincere. Denny’s doomed conversation attempts with his emotionally-disengaged father are striking and genuine.
The most memorable passages involve Denny and his father dealing with their mounting grief in different ways. Denny’s class disruption early in the book is at first funny, then embarrassing, then downright pitiful. Later in the book Denny suffers a full-blown nervous breakdown at school, and no one seems to understand. Dad’s erratic behavior in the Chinese restaurant is a train wreck – an accident that you know you don’t want to see, but you just can’t look away. These scenes are tough to read. They are dramatic and tragic. There’s no punch line at the end of the chapter. That’s how life is, and that’s the story in Sorry, You’re Lost.
For that reason, teachers and librarians should recommend this book with great care. The comical cover art complicates matters. Librarians who don’t read this book will be tempted to display it alongside the Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries books. Don’t do it. This book is very different. Sure, there are “Wimpy Kid” moments, but Sorry, You’re Lost provides a much more mature, emotionally-charged experience.
Buy a copy of this book for your school library, and don’t be afraid to add it to your 7th or 8th grade classroom library as well. And read it for yourself. That boy or girl in your class who often behaves inappropriately might have something in common with Denny.