Unclaimed Baggage

Unclaimed Baggage

by Jen Doll


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*A New York Times Staff Pick*
*An NPR Best Book of 2018*
*A Buzzfeed Best YA Book of 2018*

In Jen Doll's young adult debut novel, Unclaimed Baggage, Doris—a lone liberal in a conservative small town—has mostly kept to herself since the terrible waterslide incident a few years ago. Nell had to leave behind her best friends, perfect life, and too-good-to-be-true boyfriend in Chicago to move to Alabama. Grant was the star quarterback and epitome of "Mr. Popular" whose drinking problem has all but destroyed his life. What do these three have in common? A summer job working in a store called Unclaimed Baggage cataloging and selling other people's lost luggage. Together they find that through friendship, they can unpack some of their own emotional baggage and move on into the future.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Taylor Trudon

In Unclaimed Baggage, Jen Doll's big-hearted Y.A. debut…[she] breezily alternates among the voices of her likable characters as they move toward new discoveries, new romance and unexpected adventure.

Publishers Weekly

★ 06/11/2018
What happens to the suitcases left unclaimed at airports? They go to stores that sort through, and sell, their contents. Sixteen-year-old Doris works at just such a store in a small Alabama town, as do Nell and fellow high schooler Grant, and the three teens become unlikely friends. Doris is an anomaly in their conservative town because she doesn’t believe in God—and doesn’t mind saying so; Nell’s family has just moved from Chicago; and Grant was a local football hero, until his drinking cost him his position on the team, his girlfriend, and his self-respect. In her YA debut, Doll skillfully integrates three alternating voices—especially Doris, with her gift for finding things—in a story threaded through with relationships and identities lost and found. Over the course of the summer, junk and treasures, both sentimental and real, pass through the shop; family history is reclaimed; and things, stories, and people find new places to belong. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ryan Harbage, Fischer-Harbage Agency. (Sept.)

From the Publisher

*A New York Times Staff Pick*
*An NPR Best Book of 2018*
*A Buzzfeed Best YA Book of 2018*
*A Bustle.com Best YA Book of September 2018*
*A Hypable YA September Must-Read*
*A Cosmo Best New Book of 2018*

*A BookRiot Fall 2018 YA Must-Read*
*A Mental Floss Best Book of 2018*

"Jen Doll's big-hearted YA debut . . . Doll breezily alternates among the voices of her likable characters as they move toward new discoveries, new romance and unexpected adventure." —The New York Times Book Review

"A magnificent gem of a story . . . a dense, rich, and powerfully beautiful story. A quintessential Southern Novel for Teens, bordering on Gothic, but still managing to leave the reader with a sense of wonder and optimism." —NPR

"In her YA debut, Doll skillfully integrates three alternating voices—especially Doris, with her gift for finding things—in a story threaded through with relationships and identities lost and found. Over the course of the summer, junk and treasures, both sentimental and real, pass through the shop; family history is reclaimed; and things, stories, and people find new places to belong." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Doll deftly navigates difficult topics like alcoholism, sexual assault, and racism with a compassion for her characters and her audience, making for a deeply engaging read that beautifully balances life's more profound moments with ones of levity and frivolity." —Nylon

"An infectious story about friendship, politics, and falling in (and out) of love." —Entertainment Weekly

"And when it comes to reaching young readers, there’s much to celebrate about Doll’s willingness to not only get political, but really present how politics affects us all." —EW.com

"Jen Doll's debut YA novel Unclaimed Baggage is told in each of their three perspectives as they literally unpack lost baggage while unpacking their respective emotional baggage, and it's a testament to the power of friendship." —Bustle

"If your Netflix queue runneth over with YA rom-coms, this is the book for you. This story of three unlikely friends who meet while working a summer job selling people’s lost luggage is your next binge-read." —Cosmopolitan

"Perfectly heartwarming and quirky." —HelloGiggles

“Plenty of emotional baggage is unpacked in alternating narrative style in this deceptively weighty novel, particularly between Doris and Grant, who have a history together that rings true to the way peer dynamics often play out in small, insular communities . . . Teens who favor realistic fiction will find much to like here.” —Kirkus Reviews

"Nestled into this breezy book about friendship and love sits conversations on racism, religion, sexual assault, alcoholism, and life choices. The friendship among Nell, Doris, and Grant creates a safe place where the three of them can come to terms with issues and not be judged. The quirky store where they work sets the tone for the novel. VERDICT A great choice for fans of Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone." —School Library Journal

"This was a great book, and I highly recommend it for anyone of any age to read." —The Decatur Daily

"Unclaimed Baggage, delivers a page-turning story of three unlikely friends navigating an abundance of current social issues confronting present-day teenagers. It's Doll's unflinching gaze at such complex and sometimes controversial themes that should appeal to any young person who has ever been underestimated for not being savvy enough to take on the challenges of the world around them." —The Chronogram

“A testament to the restorative power of friendship, with an intriguing premise and setting that will inspire readers to come to terms with their own ‘unclaimed baggage’.” —Leila Sales, author of This Song Will Save Your Life

“Set against the lively landscape of modern day Alabama, three unlikely friends are thrown together for an unusual summer that is part adventure, part romance, part backyard treasure hunt. Sharply conceived and deeply felt, Jen Doll spins a story that details the intricate and surprising relationships of maverick Doris, free-spirited Nell, and troubled golden-boy Grant who wear their hearts—and will steal yours—on every page of this warm, funny, and wryly-observed novel.” —Adele Griffin, author of the National Book Award Finalists Sons of Liberty and Where I Want to Be

“The small-town Alabama teens I met in Jen Doll’s stellar book have populated my mind and heart. This story will stay with you.” —Melissa Walker, author of Unbreak My Heart and Small Town Sinners

"UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE is equal parts tender, funny, and affirming. This tale of three small town teens and the quirky workplace that draws them together reminds readers that the universe has a way of bringing us the people we need most in our lives. I absolutely adored this book." —Jennifer Mathieu, author of Moxie

"Jen Doll’s writing is as full of surprise and treasure as the titular Unclaimed Baggage. I fell hard for Doris, Nell, and Grant, and their story that celebrates the discovery of true friendship." —Ava Dellaira, author of Love Letters to the Dead and In Search of Us

"Jen Doll's luminous, deeply felt debut novel Unclaimed Baggage will claim your heart as immediately as it claimed mine. Anyone who has felt out of step in her hometown, anyone who has felt like she was living in a constant state of culture shock despite never having left home, anyone carrying heavy bags, be they literal or emotional, will spark to this story of friendship, selfhood, and discovery of abandoned treasures." - Katherine Howe, New York Times bestselling author of Conversion

School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up—Nell moves from Chicago to Alabama in the middle of her high school career; she's not happy about leaving her boyfriend or her friends behind. She winds up working at a store that sells lost or left behind items from airports. Nell connects with her new coworker Doris. Together they start bonding with Grant. He used to be the town football hero before he drove while drunk, smashed his car, and broke his girlfriend's arm. Now he's trying desperately to regain control over alcohol and his life. The change of pace at the store from his football friends is helping him. They form a tight-knit trio who work to overcome their personal baggage and find their true selves. Doll's YA debut packs a punch. Nestled into this breezy book about friendship and love sits conversations on racism, religion, sexual assault, alcoholism, and life choices. The friendship among Nell, Doris, and Grant creates a safe place where the three of them can come to terms with issues and not be judged. The quirky store where they work sets the tone for the novel. VERDICT A great choice for fans of Morgan Matson's Since You've Been Gone.—Jennifer Rummel, Cragin Library, Colchester, CT

Kirkus Reviews

Three teens form a tight friendship while working together at a store in small-town Alabama that sells the contents of people's long-lost airplane luggage.Reluctant newcomer Nell is desperate for a job when she ventures into Unclaimed Baggage. She is hired by Doris, who has her fair share of enemies in her conservative, religious town since she stopped attending church and whose best friend, Maya, who is a Jewish lesbian, is away for the summer. Nell and Doris establish a near instant rapport and eventually widen their circle to encompass Grant, a disgraced high school football star, who struggles with alcohol abuse. Plenty of emotional baggage is unpacked in alternating narrative style in this deceptively weighty novel, particularly between Doris and Grant, who have a history together that rings true to the way peer dynamics often play out in small, insular communities. Grant's realistic experience with using alcohol to cope with anxiety is described with compassion. Doris, Grant and Nell are all white. There are secondary characters who are black, and Nell's boyfriend, Ashton, is biracial. Despite striking a comedic tone early on, this novel lands decidedly in dramatic territory, and its overly neat ending may strike readers as pat.Teens who favor realistic fiction will find much to like here. (Fiction. 14-18)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374306069
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 09/18/2018
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 473,081
Product dimensions: 5.74(w) x 8.56(h) x 1.25(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt



HELLO. I speak to you from where I stand amid hundreds, maybe thousands, of boxes, bags, trunks, containers, and suitcases. I'm in the stockroom of the store where I work, Unclaimed Baggage, which is a place that, yes, sells baggage that was never claimed from airports and other transit hubs to lucky new owners. Think of us as an animal shelter for goods. Does anything here look like you could give it a forever home?

As usual, I'm alone in the back. I pick up the microphone I just found in the suitcase I've been unpacking. It doesn't have batteries, so humor me. Is this thing on?

Please allow me to share my Number One top talent, the thing that will make me famous if ever I go on a reality TV show or participate in a Miss America pageant (two things I will surely never do). Are you ready?

Wait. I should probably manage expectations. If you're like most people, you're not going to be that impressed by what I'm about to reveal. You're going to say, Anyone can do that. All you have to do is pay attention. Or, maybe you'd be harsher: That's a dumb talent. That's not even a talent! Ugh, show me your baton, girl — get out there and twirl! To which I would say, stop being so sexist and give me a chance to speak, please. Even if I am just talking into a dead microphone in a stockroom full of used items.

My name is Doris. I am sixteen, and — along with slightly ragged fingernails (I've promised myself this will be the year I finally stop biting them); long, so-dark-everyone-says-it's-black-but-it's-really-dark- brown hair; and two chocolate-colored irises that give looks described as both "penetrating" and "pugnacious" — I come complete with a love of lists (especially those that include parentheticals!), a passion for drawing, and the "gift of gab," which is how my aunt Stella used to tease me about how much I talk.

I also bear the distinction of being pretty much the Number One weirdo liberal agnostic in my minuscule Alabama town, which gives all kinds of grief to my parents. When I decided to petition against the school-sanctioned prayer at each football game, Mom and Dad retaliated by praying louder than anyone. You'd think adults would be over that kind of stuff, but nope: The desire to fit in appears to be a lifelong human condition. Unless you're like me, I guess.

But back to that talent.

Imagine me leaning in close to the mic, gesturing a little, dropping my voice to a sultry whisper: I can find things. Your lost keys. The neighbor's missing cat, awkwardly named Pussy. Maya Bloom's retainer, let us never speak of that dark day again — the smell of the dumpster in which it was located is lodged permanently in my left nostril. Billy Pickens's trombone, which didn't really go missing so much as it was purposely tossed into my backyard on the last day of school because, top secret intel: Billy Pickens despises trombone. Or my mom's sunglasses: Nine times out of ten, they're right on top of her head.

It's not a superpower — that would be fairly lame, as superpowers go. Who'd pick finding things over flying or shooting fire from their eyes or being able to turn water into Diet Coke? But it's been helpful, I have to say. Not just personally, but professionally: I find things for my job.

Or, more accurately, things find me.

Think about all the flights around the world happening at the same time, and how if even one percent of that luggage doesn't make it back to its owner, pretty soon you'll have a massive pile on your hands. What happens to all that stuff? Airlines try to reunite people with their belongings, but they don't always succeed. After a certain amount of time, those orphaned items are sold to stores like Unclaimed Baggage and auction houses where people show up to bid for suitcases they aren't even allowed to look inside. You might hit it big, or you might end up with a pile of soiled shirts. Game of chance, meet laundromat.

Most days I work in the stockroom, going through shipments. What I find ranges from the spectacular (a vintage Oscar de la Renta gown with only a tiny spot at the hem; I could have worn it to prom, if I had any interest in such things) to the abysmal (old boxer shorts that require me to disinfect myself with an entire bottle of hand sanitizer). Even better, I find those items — well, not the boxer shorts — homes. For example:

1. The doll that made my old piano teacher, Mrs. McClintock, cry because it was a replica of the one her grandpa had given her when she was a tiny girl.

2. The skateboard that class stoner Bruno Havens yanked out of my hands with the only scream of joy anyone's ever heard Bruno Havens emit because it was signed by some famous skater named Tony. Then Bruno actually hugged me, which is unprecedented.

3. The designer purse sold out everywhere that Ms. Lee, our extremely stylish vice principal, simply had to have. I kept it hidden in the back until she could pick it up, ensuring my path to a really good college rec letter, even if I am a godless heathen.

I've been working at Unclaimed for two summers now, so I've seen plenty of stuff come and go. It's a lot like life that way. Everyone's always looking for something. And we're all carrying around the memories of what we've lost. Which, by the way, is far more than just possessions.

For example, my closest friend, Maya Bloom, who's not only the one Jewish teenager in our town, but also the only lesbian who's actually out (a lot of people around here seem to think that's worse than not being so sure about the existence of God), got a job as a camp counselor in Mentone this summer, so I'm here, left behind, my life the same but also different. I miss her, but at least I know she'll be back.

Then there are more permanent rifts: Friendships that go awry and can't ever be fixed. You can lose your mind, your heart, your dreams, your community, your job. You can lose someone you love. Or, to a less tragic extent, your virginity. (My parents would be relieved to know I still have my own.) Even age disappears, year after year. In two more years, high school will be gone. I'll head off to college, and all of this life I've had here will be, well, if not lost, closed. A chapter behind me.

Earlier today I was heading back to the stockroom after my lunch break when I found a kid. This kid was alone and loitering near the toy section, but he wasn't paying attention to any of the toys. That set off the alarm bells. He was five or six years old, a chubby boy with spiked-up hair and cargo shorts and a frown on his face. He looked at me, and I knew.

"You're lost," I said, and his big, round eyes, they got hopeful.

"My mom is here somewhere," he said, and I said, "Of course she is." I took his hand, which was slightly sticky. He squeezed mine back in a way that felt like he was preparing to hold on for dear life.

"Don't worry; we'll find her," I told him, and walked him over to Customer Service, where my nemesis, Chassie Dunkirk, was waiting to return a pair of sparkly high-heeled shoes. Her boyfriend, Mr. Football Player Champion of the World (or at least Our Small Town), Grant Collins was holding her name-brand purse. Chassie had her arm in a sling, the result of what even out-of-the-loop me knew was a cheerleading injury from earlier in the year. More worrisome than that was the fact that their lips were pressed against each other's so hard I was afraid they might pass out on the floor in front of me.

"Ahem," I said, causing them to turn around. That's when I saw that Chassie wasn't with Grant Collins at all. She was making out with a senior who graduated in May, which is pretty shocking information, because in the history of our town, it's never not been Chassie and Grant.

"Oh. Excuse us," said Chassie.

The guy looked at me and then at the floor, and I remembered his name. Mac Ebling. He'd been on the football team with Grant.

Chassie noticed the kid clutching my fingers. "Blake Jarvis," she said, "you've got chocolate on your shirt." She rolled her eyes and turned back to Mac: "Let's get out of here. I'll just keep the shoes. My arm hurts, and this place smells like mothballs and death."

"I'm lost!" Blake Jarvis announced forlornly, but Chassie was already out the door, Mac Ebling's hand tucked snugly into the back pocket of her denim shorts. I gently tugged my charge toward my boss and the owner of Unclaimed Baggage, Red Finster.

"Found a new friend, Doris?" he asked. "Blake Jarvis, where's your momma? I really liked that duet you sang together at the church concert last week. That was real pretty."

Suddenly I understood why everyone seemed to know Blake Jarvis except me — they all go to church together. Church is big in my town. Church and football, which I don't care much about, either. A bunch of jocks hurting one another and themselves as people stand around and cheer? No, thanks.

Blake Jarvis tried to smile, but his lip quivered. "I. Don't. Knowwwwww," he answered, his face crinkling into a pool of almost-cry.

"Wanna make an announcement for her?" offered Red, and Blake Jarvis shook his head up and down, a hard affirmative. I led him over to the little stairs that take you up to what Red calls the Customer Service throne, and Red held out the store's microphone for him.

"I've been found, Momma! Momma, where are you?" he said, and while everyone let out a collective "aw" at the tiny voice emanating from the sound system, Red stepped in. "Gail Osteen, Blake Jarvis is at Customer Service. Please pick him up at your leisure." Within minutes, there were the same hopeful eyes, with a neat bob rather than the spiked-up hair.

"Blake Jarvis Osteen, I told you to wait outside the dressing room like a good boy, and off you go running around — you nearly scared me to death!" said Mrs. Osteen, who smelled like vanilla and was holding several one-piece swimsuits with ruffled bottoms. She hugged her little boy, and he pointed to me.

"She found me!" he said, and though Mrs. Osteen looked at me kind of funny at first, she clutched me in a fragrant hug while Red smiled benevolently upon the scene. Blake Jarvis was promised a new toy for being so brave, and he and his mom went off together to pick it out, holding hands.

Red gave me a high five. "Stellar job, as always!"

You know who I thought of then? Aunt Stella. My badass, beautiful aunt, the adventurer of the family, the one who refused to be pinned down by the proprieties dictated by Southern society, much less our small town. The one who understood me completely, while my conservative parents wondered how I could have possibly resulted from their chromosomal merger. I wished desperately I could tell Stel about what had just happened with Blake Jarvis, because she would have looked at me delightedly across her Diet Coke (she drank them in extra- large mason jars, with plenty of ice, pretty much incessantly) as if I really did have a superpower, as if finding lost people was something remotely special, something only I could do. She would have told me that when I'm at college and surrounded by people who appreciate me, I will be way better off than Chassie is. Never peak in high school, she used to say. You need somewhere else to go afterward. That's what she did after she graduated, but she didn't just go somewhere else, she went everywhere: traveling the world, trying out different jobs, different apartments, different relationships.

Mom was always telling her little sister to grow up and settle down, but I thought Stel was perfect just the way she was. Calling her own shots, saying the heck what other people think. She's the one who told me I didn't have to do everything my parents did just because they decided it was right for them. Find yourself, she said. That's the only way.

Last summer she was on a beach in the south of France when she noticed two little kids being swept out to sea. As a teenager, she'd lifeguarded at our town water park, and she dove right in after them. She brought one back to safety before going in after the other. She got him close enough to shore that he could make it on his own, and that's when the riptide pulled her back again.

They never recovered her body.

That's the thing about lost. It doesn't always mean found. The worst losses are those things we never truly get over, no matter how good we are at locating misplaced car keys. Sometimes it feels like they take over completely, leaving a hole where your heart used to be.

The grief counselor told me to hold on to the memories, that's how I keep Stel alive forever. But there are some days I'd like to pack my memories up in a suitcase, put them on a plane, and let them fly around at thirty thousand feet until I'm ready to collect them again, which, to be honest, might be never.

My job helps, though, it really does. Last summer it was the one thing I kept doing, a place I could go when everything else seemed bleak and pointless. Red treats me like an adult, and he's never judged me for anything, unlike Mom and Dad. And if I cry when I'm back here, which I did pretty much every day after we got the call about Stel, there's no one around to see me. Along with getting regular paychecks, what more can you ask for in a job?

Well, there's another thing. At her memorial service, Aunt Stella's favorite yoga instructor called her a connector. That means someone who makes the world feel more welcoming and whole, who makes people feel better together in it. I keep thinking that if I can be more like Stel, if I can bring people and things together, maybe I won't have lost her entirely after all.

I like to imagine that Stella survived and is living on an island somewhere, free and beautiful and drinking from her mason jar. Of course, that's highly unlikely, but who knows, maybe somewhere, someone is finding the things that are important to me. Being in the store makes me think about possibility, about how we only know our side of the story. Maybe there's another side to things you haven't even thought of yet.

I drop the mic. These suitcases aren't going to unpack themselves.



Ashton and I say good-bye in my driveway, in front of my parents, who are waiting in the car, all packed and ready to go and politely trying not to look. My little brother, Jack, has no such honor code; his face is pressed against the glass, eyes bulging and trained on us. Mom has given me ten — OK, fifteen! — minutes for this final-final- final farewell. The drive to Alabama from our town in the Chicago suburbs will take at least ten hours, and we need to get on the road. As it is, with eating and bathroom breaks and everything else, it's probably going to take two days.

But it isn't just about time. The truth is, my mom doesn't get it. You and Ashton have been attached at the hip since school letout for the summer last week. What could you possibly still have to say to each other? she asked. She doesn't understand that love isn't a matter of having to say things to each other. We're past that, Ashton and me. When I tried to explain, she reminded me that we could email and text all the time, as if that's anywhere near the same. She's never liked him much, anyway: Don't get too serious; first relationships are just for practice, she told me when we started dating. You'll see. My mom is a scientist; everything has to be perfect. Me, I just want to be loved, and in love.

I grab Ashton's hand and pull him toward the corner of the yard, where there's a row of still spindly trees growing at different heights. I brought each of them home from school on Arbor Day — a tree for every year we lived here, fifth grade through sophomore year — and Dad helped me dig a hole and plant them, one after the other. The oldest are taller than I am now. I've heard the Arbor Day program is being discontinued. Just like my life as I know it.

"I'm really going to miss you," Ashton says, looking into my eyes, and I once again try to memorize how his smile spreads across his entire face when something is funny; the flutter of his insanely long eyelashes; his hands, strong and calloused from sports, but soft, too.

"I'll miss you more," I say, and I know it's true. Ashton gets to stay right where I want to be, surrounded by all of our friends here at home, having the summer we'd been planning before my mom doled out her "exciting news" that was going to be "so good for us." Now, I'm en route to a place where the only people I know are my immediate family members, and at the moment, I don't even like any of them very much.

I guess I buried the lede: We're moving to a small town in Alabama, because my mom, the rocket scientist, got a prestigious job at the Marshall Space Flight Center. And families stick together, whether they want to or not, I guess. Or at least mine does.

"You've got to come and visit me," I say.

"I'll do my best," he replies. He leans forward, and I lean forward, and we kiss just as my mom honks the horn.

I cry until we cross the Mason-Dixon Line. At that point, I think I'm out of tears.


Excerpted from "Unclaimed Baggage"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jen Doll.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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