Summary: Planning to use his summer to save up for a trip to Europe, Steve finds the death of his grandfather, David McLean, gets him there a lot quicker when the will leaves him an airplane ticket and a mystery to solve in Spain. Tracking down his grandfather’s lost possessions leads him to Laia, the great-granddaughter of Maria, and an old journal detailing McLean’s twelve weeks as a soldier in the International Brigade struggling to protect Spain from the Fascists. As Steve and Laia make their way through the journal and Spain, Steve connects with his family history by following in his grandfather’s footsteps and the experience leaves him with a completely different perspective of the man he thought he knew.
Number of Pages: 211
Age Range: 15-17
Review: Lost Cause by John Wilson was my last Seven the Series read. I know they are meant to be read in any order, but I particularly liked having Steve’s story as my last book because it was unique. Each grandson is in a different stages of growing up. McLean seems to be aware of this from the grave as he picks out a specific mission for each one, guiding them into adulthood and fostering self confidence and self esteem when necessary.
But Steve is different. He and his grandfather weren’t close, and it wasn’t because they didn’t know each other. The younger twin of DJ, Steve is often overlooked in his own right and DJ has assumed a role of responsibility as surrogate parent after the death of their own father. The ridiculousness of DJ acting more mature than Steve is not lost on him, and as a result their relationship is somewhat strained.
The task Steve receives from his grandfather is to go to Spain and retrieve some items of his that he left behind after serving in the International Brigade. Because it means he gets to go to Europe as he always dreamed of doing, Steve is ecstatic. He isn’t daunted by the fact that his grandfather’s instructions are kind of sketchy and unclear, but jumps into the experience to learn what he can and figure out what his grandfather was doing in Spain in the first place.
What he finds with Laia as his guide is a rich history of McLean’s first experience abroad. Jumping into a war he didn’t really understand, and having to come to terms with the reality of that action. McLean’s journal is powerfully written, detailing the initial arrogance of a young man with strong beliefs and without the experience to back them up to a sorrowful, pensive man tempered by war.
As with all Wilson’s books, I learned a lot. This time I learned about the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Wilson opened my eyes to the folly of other countries in their lack of involvement, although one might argue there was no way of knowing it was a stepping stone to World War II, but he also skillfully showed that as in all wars, it is never a black and white situation.
By the end of the book, I wondered if, of all of the grandsons, Steve is the embodiment of his grandfather. His story is all about retracing his grandfather’s steps, living through his grandfather’s words, and making the choices his grandfather perhaps should have made. If you ignore the fact that McLean’s decisions meant Steve was born, then Steve’s story feels like a righting of wrongs – like the life McLean should have had after the war.
For me, it was an immensely satisfying conclusion to Seven the Series, and I am very happy Seven the Sequels are waiting for me read having been published in 2014.
“I sat back and stared at the ceiling. That was typical of DJ. Assuming I couldn’t manage on my own. Trying to ‘big brother’ me. It got on my nerves. On the other hand, I appreciated that he would do whatever he could to make my dream possible. His superior attitude bugged me like crazy, but we were twins. Deep down, we both knew that if the other got in trouble, we would do whatever it took to help.” – Steve talking about his twin brother DJ from Lost Cause by John Wilson, page 9
“Rosa Luxemburg, a heroine of mine when I was your age, once said something to the effect that freedom only meant something if it was freedom for those who think differently. I think something similar applies to friendship. Being friends with those who are the same as you, have the same interests and beliefs, is easy. The problem is that you miss much of the richness that makes us human. Seek out the odd and unusual, the novel ideas of those who think differently from you.” – Advice from David McLean for his grandson, Steve from Lost Cause by John Wilson, pages 24-25
“Typical arrogant DJ, going to climb a mountain like it was the same as going to Safeway. And he’d probably do it too. Easy for him with guides and everything, and here I was alone in a foreign country with only the sketchiest of idea of what I was to do.” – Steve from Lost Cause by John Wilson, page 53
“‘Our past anchors us and makes us real. That is why you are here, no? To discover your past.’
‘My grandfather’s past,’ I said.
‘It’s the same,’ Laia said with a shrug. ‘The past does not begin when you are born. It is a line, a thread that winds back through your parents, grandparents and all your ancestors. You live in Canada?’
‘Then at some time an ancestor of your stepped onto a boat in the Old World to seek a better or freer life in the New World. He or she is a part of you, just as the Moors who ruled this country a thousand years ago are a part of me.'” – Conversation between Laia and Steve about the past from Lost Cause by John Wilson, pages 74-75
“I helped save a life yesterday, and today I might have taken one. None of this is what I wanted when I came here. But what did I expect? I was a stupid kid with no idea. What did I think, that wars are fought without blood and death, like a story in the Boy’s Own Annual? Did I really imagine that men don’t cream when a piece of a bomb tears a hole in them? I don’t know if I will be able to force myself to go down into Gandesa tomorrow.” – Except from David McLean’s journal from Lost Cause by John Wilson, page 171
“‘It wasn’t simple,’ Laia said as if reading my thoughts. ‘It isn’t simple. Both sides of the war live on in Spain today. Many people miss the stability that Franco’s dictatorship gave them. I told you before: you can’t escape history. And history isn’t good or bad; it simply is. Dreadful things happen in war, on both sides.'” – Laia talking about the nature of war from Lost Cause by John Wilson, page 183