The thing about robotics and coding that nine-year-old homeschooled Sutton Jensen likes is that is it always black and white – if you code correctly, your program responded as expected. Not like a mom and dad who marry and then get divorced, or a mom who’s always off studying emperor penguins in Antartica and who sometimes misses big events in Sutton’s life. Hopefully, she’ll make it home for Sutton’s upcoming 10th birthday. And now her dad Martin is dating a woman named Elizabeth and it’s starting to get serious. He’s finally taking her out for a fancy dinner. To ask her something?
Elizabeth’s son Luis is also a bit uncertain about his mom dating Martin. But their first big dinner date does mean he gets to go on his first ever sleepover. Luis, who lost his dad to cancer when he was two, has serious, very serious food allergies and ends up in the hospital in the middle of his sleepover, ending his mom’s date thanks to some guinea pig food. Luis is a regular at the hospital, and everyone knows him. Back home, his mom suggests a visit to the Museum of Pop Culture, one of Luis’ favorite places. And Luis suggests they invite Martin and Sutton. But as much as Luis enjoys the MoPOP, Sutton is totally disinterested, after all, Luis’ favorite Star Wars exhibit is science fiction, not real science.
Clearly, Sutton and Luis have nothing in common, but Martin, who was very unhappy with Sutton’s behavior at the museum, and Elizabeth decide to try getting the kids together again, and take them on an outing hiking in the woods at Discovery Park. Not really wanting to go, both kids nevertheless try a little harder to make the outing less disastrous than the first one. Then Luis spots a “narrow opening in a dense thicket of bushes,” and imagines it’s a secret passageway to another world. The opening is too small for adults, but the parents encourage the kids to explore it, and head to what they think will be the other side to meet them.
But when Luis and Sutton take a wrong turn at a dead end and get lost, will they be able to join forces to find their way out and back to their parents?
A Field Guide for Getting Lost is narrated by both Sutton and Luis in alternating chapters, so that readers know each child’s thoughts and reactions to their parents increasingly serious relationship, and to each other. And they couldn’t be more different. Sutton is logical, all science and robotics, and a Ravenclaw. Luis has a great imagination which he turns into stories, and, like Martin, is a Hufflepuff. Despite also being a Ravenclaw, I didn’t really like Sutton at first, but as she grew, she also grew on me and I began to see that change is hard for her, and she retreats into science as a way of dealing with disappointment. Sutton is apparently white, but lives in a diverse neighborhood, including Muslim, Chinese, and Indian neighbors. And I would love to try some of Mrs. Banerjee’s golden milk when things get rough.
I did like Luis right off the bat. Despite his life-threatening allergies that really limit what he can do, Luis is not homeschooled as you might expect for a person with his health problems, but he does carry an epipen. Luis also has a great attitude and I liked how he used his imagination to take him to places he couldn’t otherwise visit through his character Penelope Bell. Luis is part Guatemalan on his dad’s side, and part white on his mom’s side. And even though he doesn’t speak Spanish anymore, he keeps in touch with his abuelos who live there.
On the whole, I thought Sutton and Luis’ story was delightful to read, and even when they were lost, they weren’t in real danger, just enough to let them get to know each other better and learn to appreciate and respect their differences. This very relatable book will definitely appeal to the younger age middle graders.