What do a suburban mom, her troubled daughter, divorced brothers, former child stars, born-again Christians, and young millionaires have in common? They have all been selected to compete on Lost and Found, a daring new reality-adventure show. In teams of two, they will race across the globe—from Egypt to England, Japan to Sweden—to battle for a million-dollar prize. They must decipher encrypted clues, recover mysterious artifacts, and outwit their opponents to stay in play.
Yet what started as a lark turns deadly serious as the number of players is whittled down, temptations beckon, and the bonds between partners strain and unravel. The question now is not only who will capture the final prize, but at what cost.
“Wonderful.” —Jodi Picoult
"An entertaining, unexpectedly wise novel.” —Time
“Will keep readers on the edge of their seats . . . It may be the most emotionally satisfying novel of the season.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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About the Author
Date of Birth:January 18, 1971
Place of Birth:Manchester, New Hampshire
Education:B.A. in English, Wesleyan University, 1992; M.F.A. in Creative Writing, American University, 1998
Read an Excerpt
Lost and Found
By Carolyn Parkhurst
Little, BrownCopyright © 2006 Carolyn Parkhurst
All right reserved.
By the sixth leg of the game, we have accumulated the following objects: a ski pole, a bishop from a crystal chess set, a sheet of rice paper, a trilobite fossil, an aviator's helmet, and a live parrot. Our backpacks are overflowing. I drop the chess piece into a sock to keep it from bumping against anything and chipping. I fold the rice paper into a guidebook. The helmet I put on my head. I hand the ski pole to Cassie. "Ready?" I ask, picking up the parrot's cage.
"Like I have a choice," she says. Our cameraman, Brendan, grins. I know he thinks Cassie makes for great footage. "Okay, then," I say. "We're off."
We leave our hotel room and walk down the hall, Brendan walking backward so he can film us; our sound guy trails behind. In the elevator, the parrot squawks.
"We should give this guy a name," I say to Cassie, holding up the cage.
"How about Drumstick?" Brendan smiles behind his camera. He's loving this.
"How about Milton?" I try. "He looks kind of like a Milton, don't you think?"
"Fine, Mom," Cassie says, staring up at the lighted numbers. "Whatever."
The doors open onto the lobby, and we step out. There are only seven teams left, and the other six are already here. I pretty much hate them all by this point. Wendy and Jillian,the middle-aged flight attendants from Milwaukee, are sitting on a sofa, feeding little bits of bread to their parrot, while Carl and Jeff, the funny brothers from Boston, sit next to them, poring over a guidebook. Justin and Abby, whom a few people have dubbed Team Brimstone (or, occasionally, Team Shut-Up-Already) because they won't stop talking about how the power of the Lord rescued them from homosexuality and delivered them into the loving grace of Christian marriage, are praying. Juliet and Dallas, the former child stars, who are standing (not coincidentally, I think) next to a large mirror, are staring at them with naked malice. Riley and Trent, the young millionaire inventors (they're wild cards - brilliant, but not so good with the everyday stuff, and everyone wonders what they're doing here anyway, since they don't need the money), smile at Cassie as we walk past, but she turns away from them and goes to sit next to Wendy. Wendy says something to her, and Cassie actually smiles and reaches out to touch the feathers on their parrot's head.
The only seat left is next to Betsy and Jason, the former high school sweethearts who have recently been reunited after twenty years apart. They seem to be having a fight; they're sitting beside each other, but his arms are crossed, and their commitment to not looking at each other is very strong. I sit down next to Betsy, balancing Milton's cage on my lap.
"Morning," Betsy says, turning her whole body away from Jason. "Did your parrot keep you guys up all night, too?"
"No, we just put a towel over his cage and he went right to sleep." "Lucky," she says. "We tried that, but it didn't work. Ours was freaking out all night. I think we got a defective one."
"A defective parrot. I wonder if there's any provision for that in the rules."
"Yeah, maybe they'll let us trade it in. Otherwise, I'm gonna put it in Barbara's room tonight."
There are two camerapeople filming this conversation. One of the producers, Eli, steps to the middle of the room and claps his hands. "Quiet, everyone," he says. "Here comes Barbara." The front door opens and the host of the show, Barbara Fox, walks in with an entourage of makeup artists and even more camerapeople. She's small and rigid with short blond hair and a frosty smile. She's one of the most unnatural people I've ever met. I don't know how she got a job on TV. We're not allowed to approach her. "Good morning, everybody," she says, turning her glassy smile to each of us in turn.
"Good morning," we say like schoolchildren, except less in unison. Her crew sets her up in front of a large mural of the Sphinx. Filming begins. "I'm Barbara Fox," she says, "and I'm standing in a hotel in Aswan, the southernmost city in Egypt, with the seven remaining teams in a scavenger hunt that will cover all the corners of the earth. Ladies and gentlemen, this ..." - dramatic pause here, and a strange little roll of her head - "is Lost and Found."
Throughout this process, auditioning for the show, going through rounds of interviews with the producers, providing background for the viewers, we've been asked over and over again to "tell our story." The story I've told them goes something like this: I raised Cassie mostly on my own; it hasn't always been easy. She'll be leaving for college next year, and I wanted a chance to travel the world with her before she's gone. Cassie's version is considerably terser. We tell the story like that's all there is, like we're any old mother and daughter doing our little dance of separation and reconciliation. Oldest story in the world.
The story that doesn't get told begins like this: Four months ago, on a warm and airless night, I woke up to find Cassie standing over my bed. I couldn't see her very well in the dark, and for a moment it was like all the other nights, scattered through her childhood, when she'd come to get me because she was sick or scared. I'm a sound sleeper - I guess it's important to say that - and it took her a few minutes to wake me.
"Mom," she was saying. "Mom." "What is it?" I said. "What time is it?" "Mom, could you come to my room for a minute?" "What's the matter? Are you sick?" "Could you just come to my room?"
"Okay," I said. I got out of bed and followed her down the hall. She'd moved her bedroom into the attic the previous year, and as we climbed the stairs, I could see that the light was on and the bedclothes were rumpled. I noticed a funny smell, an odor of heat and sweat and something like blood. There were towels everywhere - it seemed like every towel we owned was piled on the floor or the bed. Most of them were wet, and some of them were stained with something dark.
"Is that blood?" I said. "Mom, look," she said. "On the bed." I looked at the tangle of linens, and it took me a minute before I saw it. Saw her, I should say. There, in the center of the bed, lay a baby wrapped in a yellow beach towel.
"What ..." I said, but I didn't know how to finish the sentence. "Cassie ..."
"It's a girl," Cassie said. "I don't understand," I said. My mind seemed to have stopped working. The baby looked very still. "Is she ... okay?" "I think so," Cassie said. "She was awake at first, and then she went to sleep."
"But ..." I said, and then I didn't say any more. I reached out and unwrapped the baby. She lay naked and sleeping, her body smudged with creamy smears of vernix. Several inches of umbilical cord, tied at the end with a shoelace, grew out of her belly like a vine.
I looked her over, this child, my granddaughter. Tiny. Tiny. There is no new way to say it. If you could have seen her. The translucent eyelids, the little fingers curled into fists. The knees bent like she hadn't learned how to stretch them yet. The feet wrinkled from their long soak. You forget how small they can be. Tiny. I picked her up, and she stirred. She opened her eyes and looked up at me. A lurch inside me, and I loved her, just like that. It didn't even happen that way with my own daughter, not quite. I held her close to my chest and wrapped the towel around her again.
"I didn't know how to tell you," Cassie said. "I don't understand," I said again. "You had this baby?" "Yeah. About half an hour ago, I guess." "But you weren't pregnant."
She gave me a look. "Well, obviously, I was," she said. "And you didn't tell me? For nine whole months you didn't tell me? Who's the father? Dan? Does he know?"
"Can we talk about this later?" she said. "I think maybe I should see a doctor." She lowered her voice and looked downward. "I'm bleeding," she said, her voice like a little girl's.
I wish I had said, "My poor baby." I wish I had said, "I'm so sorry you had to go through this alone." But I was tired and bewildered, and I was beginning to get angry. What I said was, "Yeah, that'll happen when you give birth." And I didn't say it very nicely.
Cassie turned away from me and balled her hands into fists. "Well, you don't have to be so mean," she said, and I could hear that she was trying not to cry. "I've been through a lot tonight. It hurt a lot, you know, really, really a lot."
I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself down. "Okay, Cassie," I said. "I'm sorry. This is just kind of a shock." I reached out to take her arm, but she shook me away. "You're right," I said. "We should go to the hospital."
I looked at the baby, who was lying quietly in my arms. "We have to wrap her better," I said. "This towel is wet."
"I think she peed," said Cassie. "I didn't have any diapers. I didn't know they could pee so soon."
"Well, they can," I said. "Let me go get some blankets." With great care, I put the baby down on the bed and went down the stairs to the linen closet. My mind felt thick, as if my head were filled with clay. I tried to understand this new information, to lay it on top of the things I already knew and to read my memories through it. She'd been wearing loose clothes lately, I'd noticed that much. I thought she'd been gaining weight, but I didn't want to upset her by bringing it up. She'd been sleeping a lot and she was moody, but so what? It's not like that's exactly earth-shattering behavior for a seventeen-year-old.
I opened the linen closet and looked inside. I picked out a quilt that my grandmother had given me when Cassie was born; her own mother had made it for her as a wedding gift. It had been Cassie's favorite blanket in childhood, and she'd kept it on her bed until she reached adolescence.
As I picked it up, I was already imagining the things I would say to this baby one day. I would tell her, You were born under extraordinary circumstances. I would tell her, We wrapped you in a quilt that was older than our house.
I brought the blanket into Cassie's room and spread it on the bed. "But that's my blanket from Nana," she said. Her voice rose like a child's. "What if she pees again?"
I laid the baby on the quilt, the small, miraculous lump of her, and swaddled her as well as I could. "If she pees, she pees," I said. "Do you think we should bring this to the hospital?" Cassie asked, picking up the wastebasket by her desk. I looked inside at what it held. It was the placenta, dark and slick as a piece of raw liver.
"I don't think we need that," I said. I tried to think back to the books I had read before Cassie was born. "Wait, maybe we do. I think they need to check it to make sure the whole thing came out. I don't know."
"I'll just bring it," she said. The baby started to cry, a high, pure kitten-screech of a sound. We both looked down at her.
"She's probably hungry," I said. "I wonder if you should try to breastfeed her."
"No," she said, and her voice was hard and steady. "I don't want to." And I think that was when I knew we'd be giving her up.
The rules of the game are simple. For each segment, they fly us to a new city where we follow a trail of clues through various exotic (and, presumably, photogenic) locations until we're able to decipher what item we're looking for. Then each team sets out to find an object that qualifies. Every item we find has to remain with us until the end of the game, so the items are usually heavy or fragile or unwieldy; it adds to the drama. Losing or breaking a found object is grounds for disqualification. The last team to find the required object and make it to the finish line gets sent home.
At the end of each leg, Barbara interviews the team that's been eliminated, and she asks the following question: "You've lost the game, but what have you found?" I know the producers are looking for cheesy answers like "I found my inner strength," or "I found the true meaning of friendship," but that's not always what they get. The first ones eliminated were Mariah and Brian, a brother-and-sister team from San Francisco. Brian began acting strangely almost immediately; we found out later that he was schizophrenic - he was fine while he was taking his medication, but he'd stopped at some point during the game. (So much for all the producers' elaborate background checks.) The race ended for them in a museum of natural history in Quebec. We were looking for trilobites, but Brian became very agitated by a giant dinosaur skeleton that was on display, and he began to pelt it with trash from a nearby garbage can. He had to be forcibly removed from the premises. Afterward, Barbara found the two of them outside, sitting on the ground like children. Mariah was cradling Brian in her arms as he rocked back and forth unhappily. Barbara walked up to them - you have to give her credit for determination - and asked them her question. Brian looked up at Barbara, his face a frieze of misery. "I've found out you're a motherless dog," he said before Mariah waved the cameras away. I'd like to see how they're going to edit that.
I don't think there's much of a chance Cassie and I will win the game, but I don't really care. Secretly, this is the moment I'm looking forward to most, the moment when Cassie and I stand before Barbara, and she asks me what I've found. Cassie and I will look at each other and smile; I'll reach out and touch her arm, or her hair, and she won't move away. I'll turn back to Barbara, and the cameras, and all the TV viewers of the world. I found my daughter, I'll say. I found my little girl.
Excerpted from Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst Copyright © 2006 by Carolyn Parkhurst. Excerpted by permission.
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