A missing persons case sparks a cocktail of both intra- and interpersonal drama in “The Lovely and the Lost,” Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s most recent standalone thriller. 

Enter Kira Bennett, wilderness survivor. Until she was found by a Search and Rescue dog, all she could remember was a life of fending for herself in the forest, an experience that made her feral and distrustful. Over a decade later, she still struggles with human interaction. 

Enter Cady Bennett, Kira’s adoptive mother. After finding Kira, she takes her in and welcomes her into the family business: training world-class Search and Rescue dogs alongside her son, Jude, and their teenage neighbor, Free. 

Enter Bales Bennet, Cady’s estranged father. One day, he appears at the Bennetts’ house asking for his daughter’s help in finding a girl who went missing in Sierra Glades National Park, the latest in a series of disappearances. As they search through acres of mountains and forests, Kira becomes increasingly obsessed with finding the missing girl because she knows exactly what she is going through.

However, it quickly becomes clear that there is more at stake than meets the eye: Kira’s repressed memories start bubbling to the surface and family secrets are unearthed, as the situation becomes more dangerous than it initially seems. All of these threads are woven together into a survival tale of family, secrets and trying to bring back the lost. 

 All told, I really enjoyed this novel. While “The Lovely and the Lost” does not quite live up to Barnes’s “Naturals” quartet (young adult “Criminal Minds”) or her “Little White Lies” duology (“The Princess Diaries” meets “Mamma Mia”), this book was far from boring. Rather, like all of Barnes’s novels, the story had enough twists and turns to keep me interested. From the unknown elements of Kira’s past to the mystery of her adoptive brother’s father to the missing persons case that serves as the backbone of the story, there is so much to unravel. I found it just as engaging to form theories about the book’s conclusion as it was to read the tale unfold.

Barnes deftly spins her story, avoiding drama for the sake of drama and leaving minimal loose ends. The middle of the book is a little slow, but the beginning and the end more than make up for it. Furthermore, I really like Barnes’ writing style. She writes scenes that had me laughing out loud one minute and reeling from a gut-punch the next. As an added bonus, her character writing is hyper-realistic, as all of the smaller details combine to give a clear idea of each character’s personality and motives. This makes it easy to become invested in them, which is important because much of the book deals with emotional journeys. Together, all of these factors make “The Lovely and the Lost” an enjoyable read for when you get to that point in the semester when you are sick of staring at the same four textbooks. I would recommend this standalone for anyone who likes dogs, stories about families or the TV show “Criminal Minds.”