The Decoding of Lana Morris by Laura & Tom McNeal
Don’t you just love the title? It makes me think of a girl becoming unraveled to the core of what is real.
I picked up this book not knowing anything about it—the copy I got is hard-cover and there is no inside cover synopsis. I had already read Zipped (not one of my favorites) and Crushed (one of my favorites!) by the same authors, so I knew it could go either way. Not that Zipped does not have its merits—it’s just that it’s not on my personal favorites list.
It turns out The Decoding of Lana Morris is a nice surprise. It’s the first book I read from a stack of about 15 YA novels stacked along the back countertop of my classroom. Reading it first and being quite pleased with it, is a pretty good omen for the rest of them.
The core of the story? A new, modern retelling of the classic question If you had 3 wishes…But there’s no genie or magic or eyelash or wishing star. There’s beautiful blush pink sketching paper with a life of its own when put into the hands of the right person and a sort of wishing well. In the hands of Lana, the sketching paper brings things to people she knows—two of which cause nearly irreparable damage (to a person she dislikes and another whom she has come to love). But in the end, the innocent mind of a "special needs" friend sketches an image bringing Lana and all those she now loves to a place they can love back and that will love them back.
See, Lana and her friends are foster kids and out of the whole bunch of them, Lana is the oldest and the one whose mind works like that of all average, capable teens. When she first arrives to the foster home, Lana has hopes of being adopted by the young couple serving as foster parents and is dismayed by the fact that all the other foster kids in the home are SNK’s (Special Needs Kids as called by Veronica, the icy house mother). Before long, Lana begins to see Whit (Veronica’s boyish husband and the foster parent good guy) in a different way. She has feelings for him beyond that of a father and becomes pretty close to him. The only thing is he is a man she knows little about. She sees only part of him—the part that does care for the children and who makes the house a much nicer and enjoyable place. As for Veronica, let’s just say Lana draws a very fetching picture of her as the evil ice queen.
But, anything good that happens in the foster home comes by the younger residents who are indeed special needs. However, they have so much personality and humanity to share that Lana cannot help but to feel a sense of empathy and love for them. She is in many ways a mother figure to them. One of the most heart wrenching portrayals of a foster child comes through the character of Garth who is a 12 year old boy who loves super heroes and his Popeye action figure, but not more than the mother who abandoned him as a child. He waits everyday by the door for his mother to show up.
As for Lana, she’s 16 and slender with “watchful dark eyes.” She doesn’t know what to do with Whit’s advances and the new warmth she is feeling for her late night radio host neighbor, Chet. Something connecting Lana and Chet is how both of their mother’s abandoned them. Chet still has his father and now he has Lana as a friend and new possible love interest. It turns out Chet has a spot for the SNK’s Lana cares for.
I won’t tell you how the book of drawing paper is connected to the plot, but I will tell you it is essential to the plot and keeps readers engaged and interested up to the end. Do wishes comes true? Can you wish for more wishes? Do wishes end in grief or happiness? Drop your wish down the well. Better yet, gently grab a fallen eyelash off of someone you care for. Let the pieces fall where they may because sometimes our wishes are not those things laid out in our well-planned, thought out lives. Instead, think of them as prayers with a little bit of pixie dust.
Lana's last wish may come true...