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Book Review: Waking Up Lost by David Fitz-Gerald

Seventeen-year-old Noah Munch craves acceptance. As a biracial boy growing up in a small village in upper New York, he doesn’t feel that he belongs to either part of his heritage. Having lost his Native American father before he was born, Noah has spent his short life trying to connect with the part of himself that many in his hometown of Wilmington shun while placating and often avoiding the villagers who find his native side offensive. Noah also has a family secret to protect. His mother, Mehitable, speaks with spirits and his brother, Moses, has an uncanny ability to predict disaster and show up with inhuman speed to prevent it. As a result of his complex homelife, Noah spends a great deal of time alone and dreams of someday being a mountain man, living off his wits and the nature around him. However, Noah can’t stop himself from admiring Arminda, the prettiest girl in town. He doubts he will ever have a chance to court the blonde beauty, especially considering the meanest young man in town, Erastus Moss, has spoken for her. Erastus, whose grandparents were killed by Native Americans on a journey out West, begins to harass Noah when he notices Noah’s interest in Arminda. Though he doesn’t like it, Noah endures taunts, feeling the burden of prejudice and simultaneously the inadequacy of being the only “normal” member of his family–until the night he wakes up on top of a mountain. Noah begins to experience strange episodes which he believes are sleepwalking fits and one night finds himself inside the home of his beloved Arminda. Once the town discovers his odd behavior, suspicion and fear turn even more people against him, and Erastus uses it as an excuse to escalate his torture, and Noah knows he will have to stop the crazed man and find a way to control his abilities before it’s too late.

So much of this fourth installment of the Adirondack Spirit Series revolves around Noah’s coming of age. In true bildungsroman style, Noah is on both a physical and spiritual journey. He feels the difference between himself and other boys, including his twenty-year-old brother, keenly. Noah is small and by his own admission “scrawny.” He doesn’t have the physical presence that he knows others expect of a boy his age, and though often the most handsome boy in the town, Noah’s dark hair and olive skin also set him apart in a way that he finds unacceptable. However, Noah has never known his father’s people since his father was estranged from his tribe and died before Noah’s birth, so he has no opportunity to see or socialize with people he thinks might accept him more than his white neighbors. He can’t see himself as anything other than a clumsy daydreamer who will never fit in, thus giving him a plausible reason to live alone in the mountains as his father had done years ago. He believes this will also connect him to the father he resembles; however, when he attempts to isolate himself, nature and man conspire to bring him right back to the town he hates, and he finds no solace in his mother and brother’s assurances that he possess a power that will someday be his greatest strength. Doubling his feelings of deficiency is the notion that he shouldn’t be so normal. With a mother who guides spirits to the afterlife and brother with inhuman speed, Noah can’t accept that he is so ordinary. He believes that the prejudice caused by his race might be somehow more tolerable if he knew he had a secret talent, but when he does develop an unexplainable ability, it proves nightmarish and deadly since he never knows when it will happen or, more importantly, where it will take him. Ironically, this strange power that Noah typically finds deplorable becomes paramount in discovering the very purpose he longs to find. 

Faith and trust in God are also important aspects within Noah’s life and, therefore, within the novel. Noah often relies on his faith to carry him through the unbelievably difficult situations in his life. Whenever he is physically or mentally hurt, he turns to prayer for comfort and reassurance, and later when he commits a crime (albeit justified), he doesn’t feel free of the burden until he seeks absolution from God. Though his episodes sometimes prove horrific, Noah realizes so much of what he is able to do is miraculous. He searches for God’s plan for his life even while questioning how he will know the plan when he sees it. When Noah is at his lowest and fearful he’ll not survive, he feels the “warmth” of God in a physical way and hears His message that Noah isn’t alone. Noah is God’s servant, and he begins to understand that he must become what God expects, not what he wants. 

The supernatural elements in the novel set it apart from the typical novel of this genre, making it feel like a hybrid between historical and paranormal. Giving the family members such unusual abilities heightens their outsider status. Mehitable has been a single mother for seventeen years, raising her biracial sons among a town of hate and prejudice, and though she does have a few staunch supporters, these people can’t always keep the wolves at bay. She and her sons suffer from the racism so prolific during the 1800s in America. Compounding her pariah-like treatment, she speaks to spirits and must keep her gifts secret for fear of further mistreatment. Though Moses’s abilities are more vague, he, too, has otherworldly talents which cannot be openly acknowledged. Noah most of all suffers for his gift. Though he has no power over its occurrence, he is practically run out of town. These additions to the plot create more tension and conflict, enhancing the tragic treatment of this family.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.