Lost in the Sun
(2015), a contemporary, middle-grade novel by Lisa Graff, tells the story of a young boy trying to redeem himself after a terrible accident. The novel was met with great critical acclaim upon publication, and it is popular with readers and teachers. It was nominated for the 2017 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award. Graff is a prolific award-winning author and has been nominated for the National Book Award.
Sixth-grader Trent recently had a terrible experience in fifth grade which still haunts him. He and his friends were involved in a freak accident out on Cedar Lake, and he’s convinced it was somehow his fault.
Trent and other boys were playing ice hockey on the lake. Trent’s puck hit a boy called Justin in the chest, which exacerbated his existing heart problems. Still, Trent can’t accept it was an accident, and he thinks everyone hates him. Life’s generally hard for Trent —his parents are divorced, and he finds this difficult. Mum has a new boyfriend and his dad’s girlfriend is pregnant, so Trent feels left out of everything.
He’s looking forward to middle school because it will be a chance for a fresh start. His main goal is to show everyone he’s not horrible and is, in fact, a good person and friend. However, Trent’s not sure how to wipe the slate clean to get everyone to look at him differently again. When he starts sixth grade, everyone glares at him. They don’t talk to him the way they used to and he’s feeling very isolated. He reacts with avoidance and lashing out.
However, Trent meets a fellow sixth-grader, Fallon. She has a very obvious scar on her face and doesn’t tell anyone the truth about how she got it. She always makes up different reasons until no one’s sure what the truth is. Fallon is the only one Trent can talk to. They both feel that they don’t fit in and no one else understands them.
Meanwhile, Trent’s still not talking to his friends, and he stops trying. He’s flunking classes, and he’s not the same boy. His parents and teachers all notice his personality is different, but they don’t do much about it. All they do is lecture him and try to make him understand the death wasn’t his fault. However, Trent can’t get past what happened, and he stops expecting his parents or the teachers to help him.
The only one who can get through to Trent is Fallon. They share a love of baseball movies and sport, so they always have lots to talk about. There’s a sense that they are a united front against the middle school world, and at this point, it’s what they both need. Trent doesn’t know what he’d do if he ever lost Fallon.
Trent’s two brothers, Aaron and Doug, also try their best to help him. They listen when they can even though they find talking to each other like that awkward. Trent can’t help feeling grateful for their efforts, even if they’re clumsy and not always helpful. They help Trent feel accepted and loved by his family, despite what happened on Cedar Lake.
Trent, however, still doesn’t play baseball or hockey; he’s not joining in gym class; and he’s still detached from his friends. Trent doesn’t see much of his dad, who lives an hour away, and his dad just expects him to shrug it off. He can’t understand why Trent’s still hung up on it. Some teachers make more of an effort, such as Ms. Emerson, who lets Trent come in and water the classroom plants every day.
Everything culminates when Trent beats up another student who’s taunting Fallon. Fallon is frightened of Trent now because she worries he’s violent. Trent is heartbroken and knows he needs to start dealing with his issues and make things right.
Trent starts by offering to water Fallon’s dad’s garden. He then asks his mum if her boyfriend would like to help him with his baseball. He helps his brother, Aaron, when he starts failing classes because he’s been busy trying to help Trent. Trent also starts trying to make amends with his friends and his dad. There’s a sense Trent will now be able to move on with his life and forgive himself for what happened.
The relationships in Lost in the Sun
center around Trent’s feelings towards his family and his best friends, critically important relationships to any middle grader. It’s very much a character-driven novel with a quiet plot, but middle graders will relate to it. We know Trent will never fully get over what happened to Justin, but he’s able to move forward and live the rest of his life.