Find Layla (2020) is Meg Elison’s first published contemporary YA novel. Elison has won and been nominated for multiple science fiction awards for her Road to Nowhere series, specifically The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (review coming soon), The Book of Etta, and The Book of Flora. Her novelette The Pill won the 2021 Locus Award, so I was really looking forward to Find Layla.
It was so good, I finished it in almost a single sitting. Layla is 14, loves science, has one friend, and an unusual home life in Southern California. She is responsible for her younger brother, who is 6; her mother is an apartment “manager” and unstable, sometimes not leaving the couch for days at a time, sometimes disappearing for days, and sometimes flying into rages. Layla doesn’t get to wash her clothes or herself very frequently, and often has to scrounge for food.
Despite all of this, she is a good student, but is bullied because of her raggedy appearance. When science class assigns each student to video a biome, she decides to use the borrowed camera to document her surroundings, which are truly horrifying. The water constantly leaks, so there is mold everywhere; they haven’t opened the fridge since the power went off months ago, so who knows what’s growing in there? Mushrooms grow in the furniture, and trash is everywhere.
After she posts the video online, Child Protective Services gets involved and she can no longer protect her brother from being taken. She goes into hiding, and the world tries to find her with the hashtag #FindLayla.
Elison has explained that Find Layla is not an autobiographical novel but that she was on her own very young in the same way Layla is, and that the novel is for anyone who grew up with almost nothing, for anyone who was bullied, and for anyone on their own too young and who is still raising themselves. .
Find Layla is also completely weight-neutral–there is no reference to any character’s body size, and so it is easy for anyone of any size to imagine themselves as one of the characters. And even though it would have been easy for Elison to portray Layla’s neglectful mother as fat, I appreciate very much that she did not. I highly recommend it for all readers.