Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Leave No Trace.
What makes someone disappear?
From dysfunctional estranged partners and ruptured families to teenage sexual passion, Mejia has established a reputation for an acute understanding of human relationships, and an ability to portray them in exquisitely economical prose. Mejia's second novel contains all of her trademarks but is at the same time a departure. Stylistically, narratively and emotionally, Leave No Trace centers on 23-year-old Maya Stark, a therapist who is asked by the head psychiatrist of Duluth's Congdon Psychiatric facility to assess Lucas Blackthorn, the "most famous patient the center has ever had."
Lucas is incarcerated after being arrested for breaking and entering at an outfitter's store. His father, Josiah, had taken Lucas camping in North Minnesota's isolated Boundary Waters ten years earlier. Neither has been seen since, until now. Lucas, suddenly emerged from the wild, is violent, uncommunicative and alone. While local reporters have been falling all over themselves to cover every known moment of Lucas's life and mysterious reappearance, Maya embarks on a project to get to know Lucas in a quest that threatens her job, her sanity and the very fabric of the life she shares with her father, who spends his days looking for the Bannockburn, a legendary ghost ship that sailed on Lake Superior before disappearing into the wind.
Mejia explores all Maya and Lucas have lost as well as their troubled, flawed, and deeply affecting attempts to reconnect with the people they love and the world around them. Maya is haunted by the loss of her mother, Jane, a seasoned geologist. Jane's ghost is ever-present as Maya paces the house, wracking her brain for a connection, some pathway into Lucas Blackthorn's head. Something or someone drove Lucas out of the Boundary Waters. He also wanted to escape Congdon. Maya bets Lucas has been trying to get back to the glacial waters and the shadowed forests that call him home.
Maya's boss, Dr. Mehta, soothes her with fresh ideas and insights while Maya remains obsessed about the fate of Josiah. Lucas tells her about the world outside, how they were going to take him away from Josiah: "they would separate us and we would lose each other maybe forever." In order to trace his steps, Maya and Marcus set off on a quest across the Boundary Waters, into a past that threatens to unleash everything Maya knows about her mother.
As it turns out, Lucas has a great deal of difficulty embracing elasticity and change as far as feelings for Maya are concerned. He's sworn to protect his father's anonymity, but he's plagued by guilt at having abandoned him. Maya has to help Lucas find his father no matter what drove him into the Boundary Waters: "they needed to find each other and I was possibly the only person in the world who understood how much." Maya's plan is simple: if Lucas can prove himself capable of behaving in public and not running off or assaulting anyone, then Dr. Mehta might agree to let him join a search party to locate his father.
The situation brings Mejia's qualities as a prose stylist to the fore. The shifting perspectives between Maya's first-person narrative and Josiah Blackburn's tumultuous past show Mejia's seemingly effortless ability to make a story an allegory. We know precisely what Mejia means when she refers to the great beauty that is the Boundary Waters with its glacier-scarred cliffs, deadly ravines and icy bogs that mark a symbolic boundary, dividing the life Lucas had and the one that has called to him from "the dark horizons" since he was a child. In Josiah, every trace of the gorgeous brooding man who escaped into the Boundary waters ten years ago is long gone. Lucas rages against a society he doesn't know or want to understand, while Maya admits that she pretended to think things were fine after her mother's first suicide attempt.
As Maya and Lucas develop an intimate passion shaped by their search for Josiah, Lucas must gradually learn to fly on his own terms. Maya must recognize the things she has to let go of as well as the losses and mysteries of Jane that she has yet to learn to live with. Part mystery, part thriller, with the theme of personal identity at its core, Leave No Trace delivers a layered portrait of three people who learn--almost too late--that forgiveness comes from within, not from the ghosts of the past.