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The Book of Lost Friends
Cover of The Book of Lost Friends
The Book of Lost Friends
A Novel
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the bestselling author of Before We Were Yours comes a dramatic historical novel of three young women searching for family amid the destruction of the post–Civil War South, and of a modern-day teacher who learns of their story and its vital connection to her students’ lives.

“An absorbing historical . . . enthralling.”—Library Journal


Bestselling author Lisa Wingate brings to life startling stories from actual “Lost Friends” advertisements that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, as newly freed slaves desperately searched for loved ones who had been sold away.

Louisiana, 1875: In the tumultuous era of Reconstruction, three young women set off as unwilling companions on a perilous quest: Hannie, a freed slave; Lavinia, the pampered heir to a now destitute plantation; and Juneau Jane, Lavinia’s Creole half sister. Each carries private wounds and powerful secrets as they head for Texas, following roads rife with vigilantes and soldiers still fighting a war lost a decade before. For Lavinia and Juneau Jane, the journey is one of stolen inheritance and financial desperation, but for Hannie, torn from her mother and siblings before slavery’s end, the pilgrimage west reignites an agonizing question: Could her long-lost family still be out there? Beyond the swamps lie the limitless frontiers of Texas and, improbably, hope.

Louisiana, 1987: For first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, a subsidized job at a poor rural school seems like the ticket to canceling her hefty student debt—until she lands in a tiny, out-of-step Mississippi River town. Augustine, Louisiana, is suspicious of new ideas and new people, and Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students. But amid the gnarled live oaks and run-down plantation homes lie the century-old history of three young women, a long-ago journey, and a hidden book that could change everything.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the bestselling author of Before We Were Yours comes a dramatic historical novel of three young women searching for family amid the destruction of the post–Civil War South, and of a modern-day teacher who learns of their story and its vital connection to her students’ lives.

“An absorbing historical . . . enthralling.”—Library Journal


Bestselling author Lisa Wingate brings to life startling stories from actual “Lost Friends” advertisements that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, as newly freed slaves desperately searched for loved ones who had been sold away.

Louisiana, 1875: In the tumultuous era of Reconstruction, three young women set off as unwilling companions on a perilous quest: Hannie, a freed slave; Lavinia, the pampered heir to a now destitute plantation; and Juneau Jane, Lavinia’s Creole half sister. Each carries private wounds and powerful secrets as they head for Texas, following roads rife with vigilantes and soldiers still fighting a war lost a decade before. For Lavinia and Juneau Jane, the journey is one of stolen inheritance and financial desperation, but for Hannie, torn from her mother and siblings before slavery’s end, the pilgrimage west reignites an agonizing question: Could her long-lost family still be out there? Beyond the swamps lie the limitless frontiers of Texas and, improbably, hope.

Louisiana, 1987: For first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, a subsidized job at a poor rural school seems like the ticket to canceling her hefty student debt—until she lands in a tiny, out-of-step Mississippi River town. Augustine, Louisiana, is suspicious of new ideas and new people, and Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students. But amid the gnarled live oaks and run-down plantation homes lie the century-old history of three young women, a long-ago journey, and a hidden book that could change everything.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Prologue

    A single ladybug lands featherlight on the teacher’s finger, clings there, a living gemstone. A ruby with polka dots and legs. Before a slight breeze beckons the visitor away, an old children’s rhyme sifts through the teacher’s mind.

    Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home,

    Your house is on fire, and your children are gone.

    The words leave a murky shadow as the teacher touches a student’s shoulder, feels the damp warmth beneath the girl’s roughly woven calico dress. The hand-stitched neckline hangs askew over smooth amber-brown skin, the garment a little too large for the girl inside it. A single puffy scar protrudes from one loosely buttoned cuff. The teacher wonders briefly about its cause, resists allowing her mind to speculate.

    What would be the point?
    she thinks.

    We all have scars.


    She glances around the makeshift gathering place under the trees, the rough slabwood benches crowded with girls on the verge of womanhood, boys seeking to step into the world of men. Leaning over crooked tables littered with nib pens, blotters, and inkwells, they read their papers, mouthing the words, intent upon the important task ahead. 

    All except this one girl. 

    “Fully prepared?” the teacher inquires, her head angling toward the girl’s work. “You’ve practiced reading it aloud?” 

    “I can’t do it.” The girl sags, defeated in her own mind. “Not . . . not with these people looking on.” Her young face casts miserably toward the onlookers who have gathered at the fringes of the open-air classroom—moneyed men in well-fitting suits and women in expensive dresses, petulantly waving off the afternoon heat with printed handbills and paper fans left over from the morning’s fiery political speeches. 

    “You never know what you can do until you try,” the teacher advises. Oh, how familiar that girlish insecurity is. Not so many years ago, the teacher was this girl. Uncertain of herself, overcome with fear. Paralyzed, really. 

    “I can’t,” the girl moans, clutching her stomach. 

    Bundling cumbersome skirts and petticoats to keep them from the dust, the teacher lowers herself to catch the girl’s gaze. “Where will they hear the story if not from you—the story of being stolen away from family? Of writing an advertisement seeking any word of loved ones, and hoping to save up the fifty cents to have it printed in the Southwestern paper, so that it might travel through all the nearby states and territories? How will they understand the desperate need to finally know, Are my people out there, somewhere?” 

    The girl’s thin shoulders lift, then wilt. “These folks ain’t here because they care what I’ve got to say. It won’t change anything.” 

    “Perhaps it will. The most important endeavors require a risk.” The teacher understands this all too well. Someday, she, too, must strike off on a similar journey, one that involves a risk. 

    Today, however, is for her students and for the “Lost Friends” column of the Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper, and for all it represents. “At the very least, we must tell our stories, mustn’t we? Speak the names? You know, there is an old proverb that says, ‘We die once when the last breath leaves our bodies. We die a second time when the last person speaks our name.’ The first death is beyond our...
About the Author-
  • Lisa Wingate is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Before We Were Yours. She is the author of over thirty novels and a nonfiction book, Before and After, co-authored with Judy Christie. Her award-winning works have been selected for state and community One Book reads throughout the country, have been published in more than forty languages, and have appeared on bestseller lists worldwide. She lives with her husband in North Texas.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2020

    After the Civil War, the Southern Christian Advocate, a newspaper for the African American community distributed throughout the South, included a column called "Lost Friends" that allowed individuals to advertise for information about missing loved ones, generally sold off or stolen before or during the war. That column is the inspiration for this enthralling and ultimately heartening new novel from Wingate (Before We Were Yours). Though it can take a moment to catch on, the two intertwined narratives eventually speak back and forth, with the first delivered by Hannie Gossett, a resourceful young sharecropper in 1875 Louisiana, who's looking for her own people when she follows her former master's imperious daughter and equally imperious mixed-race daughter (an open secret from New Orleans) as they trek to Texas to find their father and papers relating to their inheritance. The second narrator is Benny Silva, an outsider new teacher in small-town 1987 Louisiana, pushy enough to get her students involved in a project that discovers and reconstructs Hannie's story and its wider implications for their town. VERDICT Emphasizing throughout that stories matter and should never go untold, Wingate has written an absorbing historical for many readers.--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 20, 2020
    In this disappointing outing, Wingate (Before We Were Yours) explores the history of a small Louisiana town where a new teacher’s attempt to connect with her students leads her to learn about the difficult lives of three women. After the Civil War, freed slave Hannie Gossett works at Goswood Grove as a sharecropper and spends years hoping her mother, who was sold during the war, will return. In 1875, Hannie, in hopes of finding her family, follows the daughters of the man who once owned her to Texas, where he disappeared. In 1987, Benny Silva arrives in Augustine, La., to teach at a high school with an apathetic student body. As a ploy to capture their imaginations, she researches Goswood Grove and finds records about Hannie’s journey to Texas. Though the twists of Hannie’s and Benny’s stories will keep readers guessing, the book is marred by a lack of depth, and Hannie’s reliance on and trust in her former owner is frustratingly unquestioned. Benny, meanwhile, who likens her own experiences as an Italian-American to those of her impoverished students of color, comes off as naive. This underwhelming tale is sunk by its surfeit of deficiencies.

  • Booklist

    April 1, 2020
    Wingate (Before and After, 2019) makes history come alive with the dual tale of formerly enslaved Hannie Gossett in 1875 and Benedetta Benny Silva in 1987. Punctuating their struggles are real Lost Friends, advertisements from a southern Methodist newspaper that featured messages from those searching for loved ones lost and separated by slavery. Hannie's story starts with the recalled childhood trauma of being separated from her family. Later, when her sharecropper lease is almost up, Hannie catches Juneau Jane, a Creole girl, creeping around her former master's plantation home, claiming she is the property's rightful heir. Together, the estate's recognized heir, Miss Lavinia, Juneau Jane's half-sister, and Hannie, set off on a harrowing journey west. Modern-day Benny is an English teacher in a struggling Louisiana school, in which her students discover a surprising connection to Hannie's past that promises to upset the delicate ties that bind the close-knit community. Historical fiction fans will appreciate the authentic articles and the connection between modern times and the past, while adventure lovers will enjoy a voyage reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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    Random House Publishing Group
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The Book of Lost Friends
A Novel
Lisa Wingate
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