Found by June Oldham
As a child, there was little I looked forward to more than the Scholastic Book magazine. Even in my tiny, evangelical Christian school, somehow it remained uncensored even as amazing, though-provoking books were purged from the school’s own library.
I bought lots of books from Scholastic, and nearly twenty years later, I’m pretty sure Found by June Oldham is the only one I still own. If asked why I held onto it, my reasons would be somewhat vague: I remember reading it well past my bedtime—an infraction that could have gotten be grounded from reading—even on my second and third pass. I remember snatches of scenes, devoid of context, but so intense that my memory is more my emotional reaction than a piece of the plot. And that’s it.
Still, I held onto it, simultaneously afraid of losing the book to faded memory and the adult-scrutiny that would strip my fading memories of their joy.
Psht. I’m realizing now I had great—or, at least, consistent—taste.
Found is a dystopian novel about four children who fall in together, and with each other’s help, tend to an abandoned infant. There’s no grand act that forces them to work together—they simply do what they think is right. If that’s sharing your meager food stores with a hungry stranger, then so be it.
It might be naïve, but it’s a middle-grade book. It should be naïve. And as an adult struggling not to drown in the cynicism, infighting, and blind hatred of our time, the unexpectant generosity and camaraderie of this book touched me in a way I couldn’t have guessed.
I hope modern middle-grade books still offer up kindness as if it’s a given.
Another favorite aspect of the book is how the history and lore the world echo to the characters. They hear gunshots, explosions, marching feet, dragging chains. As a child, it was hard to tell if these echoes were real—a physical or psychic disturbance—or a young imagination left unchecked. As an adult, I realized that it doesn’t matter. History always echoes, if only we pay enough attention to hear it.
Both of these elements of the book are delivered with delightful, evocative, and, at times, intense prose. Though Found is aimed at children, the author doesn’t spoon-feed her audience. Sluiced, absconded, apportioning, viaduct, skein—June Oldham breaks out words that adults I know would struggle with. As a kid I loved feeling challenged, looking the words up in the dictionary, and repeating them to myself until they were a part of my vocabulary.
And these words, weaved into beautiful descriptions, paint a vivid world in so-few pages. Take, for example:
“[The moon] splashed into the broken roof and through the tree’s branches, which made filigree shadows on the bright floor.”
Perhaps the reason why I loved Found so much as a child, and why it stuck with me over the years when its companions on my bookshelf didn’t, was because I never felt talked down to. Found has a middle-grade plot and middle-grade characters, but the vast majority of the writing could easily belong in an adult novel,
The only thing I could see people struggling with is the somewhat simple thoughts the child-characters have. With a close, shifting POV, we can watch Brocket ponder, then discard a half-second later, the question of what his father—who he’s never met—is like. It can feel abrupt, and too direct, but that’s how a lot of kids are. In too many books about children, the characters are a poor imitation of what the author remembers childhood to be like. Found doesn’t fall into that trap, even if people want it to.
Sadly, this book is out of print, but you can find an old copy on the Amazon marketplace.
You might like Found if you like:
- Strong female leads
- Dystopian novels
- Unexpected friendships
- Emotionally intense story-telling
- Survival stories
- Stories that touch upon poverty and socio-economic issues