My decision to read “Keeper of the Lost Cities” by Shannon Messenger was a last-ditch effort at staving off boredom at the end of a long, painful sick day in the second semester of eighth grade. I downloaded the first book while curled into a pathetic ball at the end of my couch, the blue light of my phone screen glaring against my face in an unlit living room. Little did I know in that moment how much this series would come to mean to me in the following years.
What was meant to be a temporary distraction from my discomfort quickly consumed my entire life. I read the first six books of the series in as many days, and even after I returned to school I would hide my phone in my lap during class or lunch to continue learning about the main character, Sophie, and her friends’ adventures in the Lost Cities. For the next year, and many thereafter, my thoughts were dominated by theories, predictions and the upcoming release of whatever book was next. I couldn’t get enough of this series — the characters, the world and the story at the heart of it all.
Even at the time, I knew I was technically too old for it. Targeted at 8- to 12-year-olds, I should have grown out of the middle-grade series years ago, but you couldn’t have convinced me to abandon it if you tried. “Keeper of the Lost Cities” found me at a time when I needed it – the escape, the magic, the sense of familiarity ever-present in books written for kids – and that hasn’t changed five years later, even though virtually every other aspect of my life has. I may technically be an adult now, but these books are still a safe haven for me, and a part of me thinks they always will be.
Yet I won’t deny that my relationship to these books is different now. The sheer fact that I can’t drop a week of my life just to read anymore should be enough of an indication that things have drastically changed. It’s no secret that the busier my life has become, the harder it’s been to keep up with the series as intently as I used to, despite my love for it never waning. But the fact that I’ve grown so much seems impossible to ignore as more and more time passes and the books stay targeted at younger readers.
I’ve read each book as the characters have continued to grow up, but I always managed to convince myself, despite the years passing between each release, that somehow I wouldn’t change with them. They’re magical, fictional beings that get to live forever, be kids for as long as they please; it seems cruel that simply by aging I’m supposed to leave them behind someday. Watching them grow up has been a gift, and I’m as scared and sad to watch that story end as I am happy to watch them finally grow into who they have always been meant to be. But knowing that the series will be over soon, finishing with book 10, and I’ll have to move on from it remains scary, as I think it always will with things like this. Scarier than that is the fact that my life will continue without them, that this piece of my childhood will be lost.
The series’s ninth and second-to-last book, “Stellarlune,” was just released this past month, and it’s definitely been the most jarring release for me so far. Attending the virtual tour (where the author spoke to fans about the book) from my college dorm room was equal parts embarrassing and confusing. There’s still a huge part of me that loves this series, but there’s also a strange feeling of beginning to let go that is only exacerbated by these huge changes in my life and the series slowly drawing to a close. Still, at the core of it all, my relationship with the story and its characters feels the same as it always has, even if I’m older now.
It’s hard to truly fathom how much time has passed since I started this series. It doesn’t feel like so long ago, and yet it is. Still, with each new release it feels like all that time disappears and I’m devouring the story like I’m discovering it for the first time all over again, embracing characters and a world that have become like friends to me over the years, joining them once more in the process of growing up instead of speeding on ahead of them. Such is the magic of art made for children: It’s timeless, it’s ageless, it’s there for everyone, anyone, because we’ve all been kids before and, in some ways, we all wish we could be kids again.
So maybe I’m objectively too old for these books, and maybe I have been for a long time — but that’s never stopped me from loving them, and it’s not going to now. Books like these may be written for kids, but they can reach people of any age. Stories like “Keeper of the Lost Cities” make us feel like our kid selves again, and there’s more magic in that feeling than in all of the Lost Cities combined.
Daily Arts Writer Camille Nagy can be reached at email@example.com.