Title: The Department of Lost and Found
Author: Allison Winn Scotch
Release Date: May 8, 2007
Publisher: Avon A
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5
Natalie Miller thinks she has it all. She lives in a city that she loves (New York), has the best job in the world (senior aide to a senator), and has a great boyfriend. But her charmed life comes crashing to a halt when she discovers she has Stage III breast cancer.
On leave from her job and sans-boyfriend (he broke up with her after she was diagnosed), Natalie begins writing in a diary as she is going through her chemo treatments. She uses it to reflect on her life and makes some hard realizations about herself and the previous relationships she’s been in, all while grappling with the knowledge that she has a life-threatening disease.
Books about cancer are difficult to read. Everyone knows it. A lot of people read to escape from the stress of their everyday lives – why, then, would you choose to read about a woman battling cancer? The short answer: when they are well-written, these books are poignant, heartbreaking, and impossible to put down. Allison Winn Scotch’s The Department of Lost and Found achieves all of these feats and more – it’s an incredible book that that is as beautifully written as it is moving.
While I have read many books about women dealing with breast cancer, this one affected me the most, even more than the memoirs. I believe it’s because most books about cancer are about women in their forties and fifties, often with children. While these fiction and non-fiction books are moving and often wonderful to read, I have trouble identifying with the women in them because we are at such different stages in our lives. However, this wasn’t the case with The Department of Lost and Found. Natalie was very close to my age, and I could really identify with her situation in life. Therefore, her diagnosis was shocking. It hit much closer to home.
What made this book amazing rather than just very good was Allison Winn Scotch’s incredible writing. Her prose was simply beautiful – at times, it moved me to tears. She wrote about cancer with such dignity and grace. I was shocked that a woman who had never been stricken with the disease (though she has many close to her that have) could make me, a person who has no idea what it’s like to have cancer, understand. Her writing elevated the book to an entirely different level, making it reminiscent of literary fiction.
“What I didn’t tell Dr. Chin, when he asked how I felt, because surely he was referring to my physical maladies, not the emotional ones, was that I was gutted. That the fear that ran through me was nearly paralyzing. That the sheer terror of his words, ‘you have cancer,’ caused my breath to leave my body, and that nodding my head in resignation was all I could do. Anything more simply would have been impossible, because, you see, I was frozen.”
But this novel is about so much more than cancer. It’s about self-realizations and coming to terms with yourself. Natalie uses her disease as a conduit to understand the decisions she’s made in her past. Why is she alone when she’s battling a life threatening illness? What decisions has she made that have led to this? In that way, Allison Winn Scotch makes this book so much more than what it seems. It’s not a book about cancer – it’s a book about a women who has cancer. Cancer is one of the many battles Natalie fights in this novel, the most important one being with herself.
The surprising thing about The Department of Lost and Found was that it wasn’t depressing. It’s actually a very uplifting novel. It gives the reader hope about the future, hope that things can change for the better no matter how bleak they must seem at the time. It is an amazing book that I cannot praise highly enough.