I shall open this review of Gayle Forman’s newest novel, I Have Lost My Way, by saying that despite reading and quite enjoying a couple of her books to date, I have found that they are a little lacking in places. As with Forman’s other books, I Have Lost My Way – the rather cheesy tagline of which is ‘They lost their way but found each other’ – deals with the notion of fate, and questions how different decisions can have lasting impacts, both on our lives, and the lives of others.
The storyline here intrigued me, following as it does three different characters who randomly meet, and then play a huge part in each other’s lives during that single day. Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel meet one another following an accident in New York’s Central Park, in quite unlikely circumstances; Freya slips from a bridge, falls onto Nathaniel and knocks him out, and then requests the help of passerby Harun to get him to a medical centre. All three are teenagers, roughly exactly the same age, which makes it feel even more of an unlikely occurrence. They are also all struggling, in one way or another, with problems which come to light as the novel goes on.
Freya is a singer, who has been signed up by a fame-hungry manager, and deemed the ‘next big thing’. However, she begins to have problems with her voice during the recording of her first full album. The book’s blurb, and some of the early narrative, states that she has ‘lost her voice’, but this is not entirely true; rather, she is just unable to hit some notes. She comes from a fractured family, her father having moved back to the Ethiopian town where he grew up, when she was a young girl, and her sister not speaking to her for reasons to do with Freya’s musical career.
Harun is a young Muslim, with a loving family who worry about him if he is five minutes late getting home after college. He is keeping a vital secret from his parents and siblings; he is in love with a boy named James, and the pair have been meeting every single Thursday when Harun should be studying. ‘Thursdays were their day to be together in Manhattan, where they can slip through the streets like ghosts’, writes Forman. They have just broken up, and so Harun feels rather despondent, unable to concentrate on anything but his memory of James.
Nathaniel is the most mysterious character of the three, having fled to New York from Washington state with the little money he has. The only inkling we have of his problem at first is that his family have suffered a tragedy, and he had no choice but to escape. We learn that he had to grow up very quickly indeed after his mother moved away to California, and his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.
After the three of them quite literally collide with one another, they slowly reveal their pasts, ‘which they have been unable up until now to confront, and together, find their way back to who they’re supposed to be.’ Several chapters encompass all of the characters together, detailing their conversations with one another, and subsequent chapters are then told from the perspectives of Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel.
The levels of trust which the characters exhibit for one another in the space of just a few hours are, frankly, ridiculously unlikely. Had the narrative unfolded over several weeks, rather than just taking place in the space of a single day, the whole may have been more believable, but this aspect really began to irritate me.
The way in which Forman brought such different and disparate characters together here is an interesting one, but at the same time, it feels so calculated, and thus cannot be fully believed by the reader. Its ending feels particularly predictable, and whilst the writing was of a good standard throughout, I did not feel as though the character voices were distinctive enough. In I Have Lost My Way, Forman has clearly been ambitious, but it does not quite pay off.