In The Beautiful Lost, Luanne Rice deftly uses her experiences with depression to craft a lilting and surprising story about the vagaries of the human heart. Maia has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts ever since her mother left to follow her passion of studying ocean life in the Canadian Maritime provinces. Maia is convinced everything will be fine if she can only reconnect with her mother, meaning she won’t have to take her pills, she will never need to be institutionalized again. When Maia runs away from home in search of her mom, she gets unexpected help and companionship from Billy, her crush from school. On the roads through New England, Maia and Billy learn truths about each other that are equal parts enthralling and distressing.
Today I was ready. Last night I’d hidden the Volvo key on the ledge outside my window. I grabbed it and stuck it into my jeans pocket along with my cell phone. Then I dove into my closet, rummaged for the duffle bag that I’d already filled with a fleece, my rain slicker, underwear, extra jeans, my diary, bottles of medication, my toothbrush, the packet of my mother’s letters, and all the birthday and Christmas money I had. “Who’s there? Maia, is that you?” I froze. Astrid had finished faxing and making her call, and her vigilance had kicked in. I heard her footsteps on the stairs and quickly locked my bedroom door, just as she began rattling the knob. That lasted exactly three seconds, and then she ran down the hall. I knew what she’d do next: call my father and try to head me off at the pass. I had to move fast and couldn’t risk her grabbing me if I went through the house. I threw my duffle out the window and, just like yesterday, climbed out and shinnied down the pine tree. Wind blew through the lilacs. They’d just bloomed, and their scent was stronger than perfume. Tiny purple flowers tossed overhead, mixing with the pine needles. I had lived here since birth; my parents had brought me home to this house, and the smell was as familiar to me as anything in my life. I tore through the trees, made it to the garage door, and hauled the door up in one wild motion. I hadn’t started my mother’s car in a long time, but it was an indestructible Volvo station wagon and it fired right up. I backed out, my heart beating so fast it could have run the engine. Wheels squealing, I flew out of my driveway, leaving Astrid running after the car, yelling and waving. My plan was to hit the highway and disappear, but I had a lump in my throat that made me turn right onto Shuttle Meadow Avenue. My phone buzzed in my pocket. I ignored it. I passed my old elementary school and Heckler Pond, where I had learned to ice-skate, and didn’t feel an ounce of sentimentality. Leaving home meant leaving home. You had abandon old things to the past. I was ready. But Billy. Martindale Street wound up the steep hill above the pond. Tall trees shaded it, but every so often I’d glance right, and through the branches could see the opposite rise where my house stood. My phone kept buzzing, the different rhythms that meant that Astrid, and maybe by now my dad, were both calling and texting. I didn’t even look. I pulled into the circular driveway. The massive brick building, gothic with spires, arched windows on the first floor, and oxidized green copper roof rose before me. This was a different perspective than I’d ever seen before; I scanned the upper stories, trying to locate Billy’s window, but everything looked different, being so close. A bunch of kids my age were clustered in a play area full of swings, seesaws, picnic tables, and a jungle gym. I saw Mary Porter, Anna Jacoby, and Kevin Hernandez from school. I could ask them where Billy was. I could do that so easily, but I was frozen in the car. How many times could I say a private goodbye? I had thought yesterday in English class was it, then in study hall today, and now here I was at the Home. I had to see him one last time. The car running, I gripped the steering wheel hard with my elbows locked, just begging the stars to let him walk by. That’s when I spotted him sitting alone under a maple tree, leaning against the wide trunk. And, as if the stars had decided to answer, he looked up and saw me too. Then my heart had the biggest jumpstart ever—he leapt up and came toward me. I got out of the car.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I came to say…” I said, but I couldn’t get the words out.
He looked in the back seat and saw my duffle.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Away,” I said.
Our eyes burned into each other. I felt heat in my chest, knowing that this really was the last time. I wanted to reach over, touch his hand. I hoped he could read my mind and somehow know he was the only person I’d miss, that I’d come here today because he was, ineffably, mine.
“Away where?” he asked.
“To see my mother,” I said.
“Can I go with you?” he asked.
I stared at him. Had I heard right? No, I had to be dreaming.
“Will you take me?” he asked.
It was real. This was happening. His eyes were begging me.
“But people will miss you. They’ll wonder where you are,” I said.
“I live in a group home,” he said, gesturing at the building. “They won’t wonder for long.”
And then he touched me—just one finger on my wrist bone—so quickly I would have thought I’d imagined it if it didn’t tingle all through my body.
“I can help you,” he said.
“Yeah, you’re running away, right? I know how to do that. No one will catch us,” he
said. He was already hurrying around the car. I didn’t think after that. I climbed into the driver’s seat, he got in beside me, and we sped off.
Luanne Rice is the New York Times bestselling author of over 30 novels for adults and the YA novel The Secret Language of Sisters. There are more than twenty-two million copies of her books in print across the world and five of her novels have been adapted into TV movies and miniseries. Luanne lives in coastal Connecticut with her family of cats.