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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374306069
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 09/18/2018
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 514,379
Product dimensions: 5.74(w) x 8.56(h) x 1.25(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Jen Doll is the author of the debut young adult novel, Unclaimed Baggage and the memoir Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest. She's written for The Atlantic, Elle, Esquire, Glamour, GQ, New York Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Vice, The Village Voice, The Week, and many other publications. She grew up in Alabama and lives in Brooklyn.

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.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Prologue: Before,
Part I: June,
1. Doris,
2. Nell,
3. Grant,
5. Nell,
6. Doris,
7. Nell,
8. Grant,
10. Doris,
11. Grant,
12. Nell,
13. Daphne,
14. Grant,
15. Doris,
16. Nell,
17. Doris,
18. Grant,
19. Doris,
20. Nell,
21. Doris,
22. Nell,
23. Grant,
24. Things to Do When You Lose a Suitcase: A List,
25. Nell,
Part II: July,
26. Doris,
27. Grant,
28. Nell,
29. Grant,
30. Doris & Nell,
31. Grant,
32. Nell,
33. Doris,
34. Grant,
35. Nell,
36. Doris,
37. Nell,
38. Grant,
Part III: August,
39. Nell,
40. Doris,
42. Doris,
43. Grant,
44. Nell,
45. Doris,
46. Grant,
47. Doris,
48. Grant,
49. Nell,
50. Doris,
51. Grant,
52. Doris,
53. Nell,
54. Grant,
Doris's Playlist,
About the Author,

Customer Reviews

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Unclaimed Baggage 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
KimMc More than 1 year ago
“Finding your truth takes time, but as long as you keep going, there’s a good chance you’ll get there,” which is the case in Unclaimed Baggage. Doll takes the theme of baggage to new heights in this YA novel that hits on racism, sexism, bigotry and assault. Through the journeys of these teenage characters, we see how “none of this is fair,” and that growing up and finding your true self is rather hard to do. Fabulously creative plot, settings and characters, this was a coming of age journey that hooked me with its charm and wit. *I received an arc from the publisher through NetGalley for an honest review
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE is a sweet character piece about three teenagers just looking to find their place in the world and find other to help them carry their personal baggage. I thought the setting was really interesting and well-done in its nuance. I feel like I missed how the squirrel from the front cover fits into everything but that’s my own complaint. The story is simple and relatively drama free. This novel made me long for the days where summer was actually a break and a time to find yourself.
gaele More than 1 year ago
A bit unsure about the premise, but curious enough to check it out, Doll uses her three characters all brought together as they work in a summer job at Unclaimed Baggage – the store that sells the luggage and contents of the bags that were lost and unclaimed from the airlines. Of course, the bags and the items they contain have unknowable stories – and Doll weaves some of the ‘possible theories’ of the origins to help these three work out their own issues and struggles. Nell is the newly transplanted “yankee” from Chicago – moved just at the start of summer and leaving behind her friends and boyfriend, her mother has decided that Nell needs a job, and fortunately the first person she meets at the new job is Doris. Local girl Doris is singularly unique, with her own history of ‘mot fitting in’ and some embarrassing moments that she is trying to live down. When you add in her grief from the loss of her aunt Stella, and her determination to be a ‘connector’ for those who need it as a sort of homage to her aunt, the warm welcome for Nell, and the quiet simpatico of their political leanings (both being more liberal than the norm) these two are soon friendly, on their way to fast friends. But all is not smooth waters there – enter Grant, the high school football star who’s reputation and issues are piling up. With his drinking finally brought to light, his stardom, girlfriend and way are all in jeopardy – but his mother quietly steps in and gets him a summer job with Nell and Cora. Cora and Grant have a history, most of it not particularly flattering to either of them, but in a move that is far beyond her years, Cora welcomes Grant into the little group with grace and style that shows her determination to change and the power of acceptance for Grant. Unlike other stories that are YA in focus, these are three teens who aren’t texting and boy crazy, there isn’t a real “romance’ in the mix, no triangles and no posturing. Instead, as they unpack the cases and play about with stories and possible histories of the items, they also start to unpack their own issues, getting advice, support and even some solutions from the others. The mix of voices simply adds to the immediacy and ingrained nature of the issues they face – and none of the issues are small ones. Together the three deal with drinking and the issues it causes with double-standards and its place as in high school culture, sexual assault, grief and loss, racism and even the ever-pervasive Christian dogma that is omnipresent and often unquestioned (or questioned with piling on shame) that they all are facing, together and separately. Thoughtful and perceptive observations, conversations that mean something, and a true bond is built for these three, upending what seems to be a prevalent notion of teens not being interested or able to dissect the world and the forces that are often placed on them with unexpected consequences. My one issue with the story as a whole was the tendency to get a bit heavy-handed with accentuating the ‘differences’ between the three, and while the ‘not all ___ are bad people message was clear, the organic development of this group of characters highlighted those moments far better than a blatant statement could possibly accomplish. A solid debut sure to please readers who want something a little different from their YA reads. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for
Karen_Benson More than 1 year ago
First of all, thank you so much to Fierce Reads for the book giveaway!! I'm not a big contemporary reader so may not have read this book otherwise if I hadn't won this copy. Well... This has turned out to be one of my top favorites of 2018!! I loved it! And now I want to read more like this, and more by Jen Doll. Unclaimed Baggage was such a delight to read. I'm totally and completely enamored over Doris, Nell, and Grant, three teens who work at a store that sells the contents of lost, unclaimed baggage. The book was funny, and the characters endearing. And there were deeper issues that are looked at such as sex assault, alcoholism, and racism. I thought the author handled each of these horrific items well. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have a fairly significant book hangover now. Thanks for that, Jen Doll!
AnnaLincoln More than 1 year ago
CW: alcoholism & Sexual Assault 4.5/5 This book surprised me in the best way. I really enjoyed all three of the character and loved seeing their friendship grow. It can be hard to carry a story over three POVs, but Jen Doll did it quite well. I enjoyed reading from the POVs of all three of them. This book also deals with many social issues while set in a conservative setting, which was interesting to read about. I loved the conversations the three of them had about race, religion, homosexuality, and sexual assault. These conversations made the characters feel real and relevant. It was also a nice surprise to see a relationship last for the entire book, which made the relationship that developed over the course of this novel feel more real and okay. I hate when 2/3 characters in a friend group get together and the other one is entirely fine with it, this book did not fall into that category, which was great. I would honestly like a sequel with these characters to continue seeing them grow together and on their own. *Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review*