Jen Doll’s UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE is a sweet, funny summer story with deeper layers!
Doris, Nell, and Grant are all outliers in their rural Alabama town. Doris is a homegrown liberal agnostic, which might as well make her an extraterrestrial. Nell just moved in from the Chicago area and on top of missing her friends and boyfriend, she has no idea what to make of the new culture she’s immersed in. Former football star Grant used to be the town’s golden boy, until one reckless night forced him to face his problems head-on. They all have one thing in common: A summer job at Unclaimed Baggage, a thrift store with a unique twist
The store buys abandoned baggage from airports, sorts through the contents, and re-sells whatever it can. And yes, it’s a real store! Doris is practically a fixture there, and after enthusiastically hiring Nell and reluctantly hiring Grant, the three take charge of the stock room. Nell is new and interesting to Doris and Grant, but the latter two grew up together. It’s a small town, so these two know each other’s entire history and dirty little secrets… or so they think. During a summer of freezing in a stock room while unpacking others’ secrets, they discover just how much you can tell about people from a few belongings– and the things you’ll never know until you scratch deeper than the surface.
This novel is a little bit of everything: A story about starting anew, falling into friendships, and maybe even falling in love. It’s all glued together by these three narrators who tell their side of it all with gusto. They all have distinct personalities: Doris is the quirkiest and most entertaining, Nell is curious and loyal, and Grant is sullen but insightful. I liked all of the characters in their own way, even though each has some faults. Not to mention that they’re funny. The first major interaction between all three characters in the back room of the store had me laughing out loud. They’re all realistic and amusing thanks to Jen Doll’s writing style.
I was impressed with how well the novel’s themes permeated. Unclaimed Baggage is a cute, contemporary romcom, sure. But it’s surprisingly deep. At its heart, it’s a story about our perceptions and how they differ from a person’s true identity.
There are also a variety of issues covered within like racism and addiction, all while keeping the novel light and optimistic… which felt like a contradiction at times.
See, all three main characters are white and middle class. Mainly through Doris, the story touches on racism, sexism, and the religious bias that still exist in their small town, but sometimes they’re all a bit glossed over. When they are confronted, the novel is so eager to get back to that overall “hopeful” vibe that the gravity of it all doesn’t totally sink in. The writer’s intentions are good, but largely foregoing deep-dives to maintain the light tone feels a bit oversimplified. If I have one major gripe, it’s this.
While not heavily on plot, this story’s character’s shine and if you’re looking for something contemporary and down-to-earth that will make you feel good, Unclaimed Baggage is a sweet story with a fun storytelling style.
RATING: 3.75 OUT OF 5 STARS
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.