The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick
Publisher: Park Row Books
Published: March 2019
Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people–though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.
All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend–her grandmother Zelda–who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.
Martha has spent her life caring for others. She’s a volunteer at the library, she does laundry and clothing mending, is rebuilding the local school’s Chinese paper dragon, she took care of her ailing parents for 15 years, she looks after her niece and nephew when her sister randomly drops them off, and so much more. She checks off her to-do list one by one, and believes she’s content and happy because she’s needed by people. But when a book of short fairy tale stories appears on her doorstep, written by her grandmother and signed/dated after her grandmother’s supposed death, Martha’s world is rattled. What happened to Nana? Why did she write these stories? Why did Martha’s parents lie to her about Nana’s death? What made Nana disappear?
I was originally drawn to the “volunteer librarian living a quiet life” aspect of the story, and I’m so glad I read it because it’s much more than that. Martha really digs into her past, breaking down what she knew as a child, what she saw and understood, and finds that looking through a different lens tells a whole other side of the story. There are several chapters throughout the novel through Martha’s mother’s point of view, which really express what it’s like to be in an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship, why many women stay in these relationships, and that difficult balancing act of pleasing the people you love.
There’s so much of Martha’s character that rang true for me personally. I’ve often felt overburdened from friends’ and family’s needs. But there’s a difference between being helpful and being a doormat. Poor Martha struggled for decades to find her voice and draw those boundaries. Reading her narrative was like reading a reminder for myself to continue to speak up when overwhelmed, to ask for help, to suggest other options, to continue to learn to say no.
What a lovely, heartwarming, comforting read. This is a story for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It’s about loneliness and grief. It’s about what happiness and necessity truly mean. It’s about self-care and growth. It’s about boundaries and friendships. It’s about abuse and gaslighting and homophobia. It’s about love and tenderness and imagination. It’s a hidden gem of a story, and I highly recommend you read it!
This qualifies as book 8 of 10 in my library books challenge.