102 Days of Lying About Lauren
by Maura Jortner
Holiday House, 2023. 215 pages.
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9 More Children’s Fiction
102 Days of Lying About Lauren is a debut novel that I read as part of my reading for the 2024 William C. Morris Award for best Young Adult Debut book. Now, although this book is technically eligible, the main character is twelve years old, so it wouldn’t really have the wide appeal to teens that the Morris Award looks for. (Wide appeal to middle school students? Absolutely!) Normally, when I figured this out about a book, I stopped right there. But in the case of this book, it only took a few pages to completely hook me, and I indulged myself and finished the whole book. Such a delight!
Before the story even begins we see two lists from a girl who calls herself Mouse. The two lists are “Rules to Live By” and “Lies Told.” The first rule is “Don’t tell anyone where you live.” The last lie is “I told Cat that Lauren Suszek was dead. She isn’t. Lauren Suszek is me.”
When we start the story, we learn that Lauren is living in an attic of the Haunted House attraction at an amusement park in Florida. She looks old for her age, so during the day, she pretends to be sixteen years old and an employee of the amusement park. She had stolen a uniform shirt and found a broom and dust pan, and she’s got a routine. She’s been living at the park for 102 days.
This might seem like an unlikely premise, but I love the way this author gradually reveals to us what happened to Mouse and how she cleverly figured out how to cope. She even made a friend with another worker and found a way to get food.
But all her efforts and planning begin to get stymied on the 102nd day, when first her friend Tanner talks about saying good-by, then someone named Cat calls Mouse “Lauren,” and then a hurricane is coming and they all need to seek shelter, but Tanner goes the wrong way.
Okay, the summary isn’t as good as the book itself. I was completely charmed by Mouse, with all her Rules for staying safe and her cleverness in staying hidden. Not to give anything away, but I loved the way the ending hinted at the long road of healing and that Lauren would be able to travel it.
I did learn from this book the sad fact that amusement parks are a place where sometimes kids get abandoned. Here’s how Mouse puts it when she sees a distraught kid in the park on the start of that fateful day:
“Mommy!” It was a little boy dressed in a fancy shirt that looked so neat Mama would have called it pressed. In other words, he looked like someone had taken care to make sure he appeared presentable today. Not a good sign. There was only one reason to make sure your kid looked that good when heading off to America’s most famous amusement park: you were going to leave him there. Parents ditched their kids here sometimes. Maybe because they wanted to get in one last hurrah before it all fell apart. Or maybe because parents needed the last memory of their kid to be a good one. Who knows? But it happened. Kids were left behind, and this kid, he looked the part. Dressed nicely, eyes wild – searching, scanning – scared out of his mind.
I think part of the reason I loved this book is that when I was a kid, I had a fantasy about stopping time and then enjoying all the rides at Disneyland. (Never mind how I would have gotten the rides to work.) But mostly it was that Mouse is a sweet and delightful person who went through something no kid should ever have to go through and then figured out an amazingly effective way to deal with it. The whole thing was maybe not completely realistic, but I needed the happy ending so much, I didn’t mind a bit, and enjoyed every minute of this book. I hope we’ll see much more from this author!
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