Three teenagers end up working together at an Unclaimed Baggage store in small-town Huntsville, Alabama: (1) Doris, an experienced staffer who hires the other two as new employees, and who is something of a social misfit because she is liberal and outspoken, doesn’t go to church anymore, has no boyfriend and only one real friend (who happens to be unapologetically a lesbian in a community that frowns on such stuff); (2) Nell, a transplant from Chicago (due to her rocket scientist mom accepting a job in Huntsville), who has had to leave behind her first love (who is biracial); and (3) Grant, disgraced high school football star who has been kicked from the team because of problems resulting from his out-of-control drinking and whose mother has arranged for him to get this summer job.
Their jobs at Unclaimed Baggage involve going through suitcases and boxes of unclaimed items, sorting and assessing their value, preparing them for display on store shelves, and publicizing the store offerings through its Instagram account. Meanwhile, as they grow to know each other and form surprising friendships, they learn to apply the same principles to their lives, sorting through past events and relationships, deciding who or what to save or discard or simply put aside in memory. In the process they confront issues of parental abandonment through death and divorce, sexual assault, alcoholism, bigotry, small-mindedness in a rural community, blended families, and jealousy.
The characters are believable and the story is original, interesting, and entertaining. Young adult readers will easily identify with the three narrators and will carefully watch their growth and maturation through the summer adventures. Parents are treated with understanding and respect by the author, which is a pleasant surprise for a YA novel. There is some violence involving fistfights and some language issues (the usual hell, damn, f***, asshole, dick, etc.). One chapter near the beginning of the story describes the three finding a dildo in an unclaimed suitcase for which, with great hilarity, they perform a funeral and burial outside the back door of the store. I suppose the author intended this to be a bonding experience to kick off their friendship, but it’s a red flag for some librarians. Too bad. It could have been left out with no adverse effect on the story.
Categories: Addiction, Bullying, Controversial YA Topics, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Grief, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Political Activism, Religion, Social Media, Summer Camps, Violence