Essential Maps for the Lost

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About The Book

From Printz Honor medal winner and National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti comes a fresh and luminous novel “about love and loss, mental illness, and taking charge of one’s own fate” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

There are many ways to be lost.

Sometimes people want to be lost. Madison—Mads to everyone who knows her—is trying her best to escape herself during one last summer away from a mother who needs more from her than she can give, and from a future that has been decided by everyone but her.

Sometimes the lost do the unimaginable, like the woman—the body—Mads collides with in the middle of the water on a traumatic morning that changes everything. And sometimes the lost are the ones left behind, like the son of the woman in the water, Billy Youngwolf Floyd.

Billy is struggling to find his way through each day in the shadow of grief. His one comfort is the map he carries in his pocket, out of his favorite book The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. When three lives (and one special, shared book) collide, strange things happen. Things like questions and coincidences and secrets, lots of secrets. Things like falling in love. But can two lost people telling so many lies find their way through tragedy to each other…and to solid ground?

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide for

Essential Maps for the Lost

By Deb Caletti

Book Description

From beloved author and National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti comes a fresh and luminous novel about the grief that can tear us apart and the people who can make us whole again.

There are many ways to be lost.

Sometimes people want to be lost. Madison—Mads to everyone who knows her—is trying her best to escape herself during one last summer away from a mother who needs more from her than she can give, and from a future that has been decided by everyone but her.

Sometimes the lost do the unimaginable, like the woman, the body, Mads collides with in the middle of the water on a traumatic morning that changes everything.

And sometimes the lost are the ones left behind, like the son of the woman in the water, Billy Youngwolf Floyd. Billy is struggling to find his way through each day in the shadow of grief. His one comfort is the map he carries in his pocket, out of his favorite book The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

When three lives (and one special, shared book) collide, strange things happen. Things like questions and coincidences and secrets, lots of secrets. Things like falling in love. But can two lost people telling so many lies find their way through tragedy to each other…and to solid ground?

Discussion Questions

1. Chapter One opens with “The way Mads and Billy Youngwolf Floyd met was horrible, hideous.” Describe how they met. Discuss if you agree with this statement.

2. Mads is a swimmer. Describe the horrific experience she has one morning while swimming. How would you react in a similar situation? When Mads learns who Billy’s mother is, why does she not tell Billy what she experienced?

3. Billy works at an animal shelter; however, he steals dogs. Why does he do this? What do you think of his behavior? How would you describe Billy’s personality? Use evidence to support your answer.

4. Billy lives with his grandmother on a houseboat. Describe his grandmother and their relationship. Why is Billy angry? Does his grandmother understand his anger? Is she supportive of Billy?

5. Billy keeps a map with him but he loses it. Mads finds it and returns it. Describe the map. Why is it important to Billy? Why does Mads return the map to Billy?

6. Describe Mads’s relationship with her mother. How does her mother need more from Mads than she’s willing to give? Compare and contrast Mads’s relationship with her mother to Billy’s relationship with his grandmother.

7. Billy observes Mads on two occasions with a small child that she babysits. What does he think each time? Why does he have this perception?

8. Identify a central theme in the story and provide examples of events, character behaviors, and dialogue that support the development of this theme.

9. Does Mads want to earn her real estate license? Why or why not? Why does her mother want her to pursue this career?

10. As time passes and Billy and Mads become closer, they continue to keep secrets from each other, and each finds it harder to be honest with the other. Billy is suspicious of Mads. What event breaks open her secret? How does Billy respond? How does Mads react?

11. Compare and contrast Claire with Mads’s mother. In what way is Claire good for Mads? How does Claire challenge Mads to make a decision about her future?

12. Discuss the book’s title and how it represents an important theme in the story. Discuss how both Mads and Billy have been lost. What events happen in their lives that help them find their way?

13. Discuss the ending of the story. Is it a realistic or ideal one, given the emotional pain both Billy and Mads have endured?

14. Both Billy and Mads experience change throughout the novel. Discuss how each character grows. Support your discussion with evidence from the text. Do Billy’s grandmother and Mads’s mother change?

Extension Activities

1. Research animal rights and animal services in your community. What shelters exist and what support mechanisms are in place for animals in need? What processes are in place for reporting abuse to animals? For adopting pets? What medical care is available? Develop a brochure or website that summarizes the services available in your area.

2. Research either careers in real estate or careers in animal services. What education and training is required? What job opportunities and salaries are available? What is the job market like in each field? Share your findings in a small group.

3. Write an essay in which you examine the concept of “loss” in Essential Maps of the Lost. You may focus on one character or you may compare and contrast any two. Support your essay with textual evidence. In your essay, be sure to address the various stages the characters experience as each works through his/her emotions.

4. Write a short dialogue (perhaps a phone conversation) between Claire and Mads’s mother in which Claire is expressing her concern about Mads. What would Claire say? How would Mads’s mother respond?

5. Read and discuss From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Discuss what draws Billy to this book. Why does the map intrigue Billy?

Guide written by Pam B. Cole, Professor of English Education & Literacy, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

Photograph © Susan Doupé

Deb Caletti is the award-winning and critically acclaimed author of over sixteen books for adults and young adults, including Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, a finalist for the National Book Award; A Heart in a Body in the World, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book; and Girl, Unframed. Her books have also won the Josette Frank Award for Fiction, the Washington State Book Award, and numerous other state awards and honors, and she was a finalist for the PEN USA Award. She lives with her family in Seattle.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon Pulse (April 5, 2016)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481415194
  • Grades: 9 and up
  • Ages: 14 - 99
  • Lexile ® HL650L

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Raves and Reviews

Caletti (The Last Forever) returns with a lovely testament to human resiliency and true love. Mads Murray is staying with her aunt and uncle in Seattle while she pursues her realtor’s license in order to work with her mother. It’s not what Mads wants, but guilt and loyalty to her mother have trapped her, causing a spiral into depression. While swimming in Lake Union one morning, she discovers a body. Mads becomes fixated on the dead woman, Anna Youngwolf Floyd,and her son, Billy, who is destroyed by grief and finds comfort in the dogs that he “liberates” from unfit owners, the no-kill shelter where he works, and a map from E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. When Mads and Billy meet, they are smitten, but Mads is terrified to reveal that she’s the one who found his mother. Billy and Mads’s romance is tender and sweet, and Caletti’s lyrical, sometimes witty narration pulls readers close to both teenagers’ tangled emotions in a complex exploration of grief, mental illness, the redemptive power of storytelling, and the hope found in unexpected places. Ages 14–up.

– Publishers Weekly *STARRED REVIEW*, January 11, 2016

Two teens meet under unusual and sorrowful circumstances,and together they learn that life is full of both joy and despair. During a morning swim, 18-year-old Mads Murray discovers a woman's body floating in Seattle's Lake Union. When the local news reveals the woman's identity, Mads becomes obsessed with finding proof that Anna Youngwolf Floyd was more than a dead body, that she was a real person with connections to the world. Readers learn Anna's depression drove her to jump off the Aurora Bridge, but Mads, who is no stranger to depression, doesn't know that yet. Mads, in Seattle for the summer for an accelerated real estate course, is the only hope for the survival of her mentally ill mother's business, a fact that fills her with dread.Desperate to know why someone would end her own life, she finds a way to meet Anna's 19-year-old son, kindhearted dog-rescuer Billy, who's ignorant of his connection to Mads. The novel treats depression for what it is: a sometimes-debilitating illness one can't simply snap out of; it's neither a personality flaw nor a shortcoming. Third-person limited perspective alternates between Mads and Billy, resulting in loads of dramatic irony, and Mads and Billy's mutual love of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a sweet leitmotif. The gently chiding and honest narrative voice keeps its astute focus on the characters' emotions and does not plumb the heritage implied by Anna's name. A clear eyed story about love and loss, mental illness,and taking charge of one's own fate.

– Kirkus Reviews **STARRED REVIEW**, January 15, 2016

Gr 9 Up–The relationship between Mads and Billy, two teenagers thrown together by grisly fate and bound together over the course of the novel by love, echoes with a motif—a certain book beloved by them both: E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Having read the story of these two siblings who decide to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art after closing time is not essential,but it is helpful to understanding the book’s significance in their lives. Mads is a big reader; Billy has really only read this one book, which was special to his depressed mother, who left Billy reeling and living with his Gran after she jumped off a Seattle bridge. Mads struggles with depression herself even while she is living with her aunt and uncle to take an accelerated course to get her realtor’s license. She feels trapped and locked into the future her mother has dictated. The teen is swimming in a lake one spring morning when the corpse of a jumper bumps her. Mads tows Anna Youngwolf Floyd to shore and becomes obsessed with her and the son she left behind. As she and the dog-saving,rescue shelter–working gamer Billy come to know each other, Mads can’t tell him what brought her into his life. Caletti excels at focusing on the perspectives of both young people. Billy’s overwhelming and moving love for Mads will pluck the heartstrings of many readers. VERDICT Recommend this tale of overcoming the ogres of depression and loss with the saving graces of sustaining relationships and self-discovery.

– School Library Journal *STARRED REVIEW*, February 2016

Awards and Honors

  • Washington State Book Award Finalist

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More books from this author: Deb Caletti