Wednesday, April 8, 2015

One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart

When it's mud season in Maine, I need a literary escape.

The first time I visited Florence, I was a teenager like Nadia Cara, the protagonist of One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart. This soon to be released young adult novel follows an American family on sabbatical in Italy. Like most of Kephart's literary novels, this book would cross over well to an adult audience.

Nadia isn't sure if she's losing her bearings or her mind in a foreign city. Words are hard to articulate and memories of the past compete with visions of the present. Is the boy with the sunlit hair real? Nadia can't resist the urge to follow Benedetto any more than she can stop herself from stealing beautiful objects. From these stolen things, she weaves artistic nests, which she hides under her bed. She doesn't want to ruin her father's sabbatical.

In this moving story, Beth Kephart gives a lyrical voice to a rare neurological disorder that robs an intelligent teenager of her ability to express herself in coherent words. The reader is taken inside a failing mind and experiences the protagonist's frustrations. The narration is fragmented like verse and integrated with avian imagery. Dialogue lacks quotation marks, and although Nadia's thoughts are intelligible, her speech is harder to understand.
"Long. High. Cool. White. Green. The nave of this church is a huge stone cage of doves and pelicans, angels and eagles. Everything carved. Everything still. The air is cool and unsunned. The wicks in the candles are burning. The pew is hard. The stone birds stretch their wings. I breathe."
The flip side of Nadia's linguistic disability is a new found artistic ability as her damaged brain re-routes. Although Nadia's story is fiction, her disorder is a true illness. This fascinating book offers a profound meditation on the complexity of the brain.

For readers who need clarity and answers, be patient. In the second part, Nadia's best friend, Maggie, takes over the narrative in a lucid voice. Specialists are called to find a cure, and Maggie seeks to return the stolen objects in a reverse treasure hunt. Maggie also searches for the boy, Benedetto, but isn't sure if he's real or not. Nadia's memories sound more like dreams or poetry.
"His lips on mine are fog and birdsong. They are the smell of leather and the raw, quickening of rain. He holds my head with the palm of his hand - all that is broken and hurting."
One This Stolen offers no easy solutions but still leaves the reader with hope. I'd strongly recommend this literary novel to adults and to teenagers who are interested in psychology, art, history and Italy. Kephart does a marvelous job with a difficult topic.

More reviews of Kephart's novels:
Going Over
Small Damages
Dangerous Neighbors & Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent
You Are My Only
Undercover (includes author interview)

Reviewer's Disclosure: Beth Kephart is a blog buddy. Upon my request, I received a free galley from Chronicle Books in exchange for an honest review. There has been some confusion over the release date, but I believe it was pushed to next week. The photos of Maine and Florence are mine.


Beth Kephart said...

Sarah, in your able hands my books find themselves discovered, considered, reflected back. I'm so appreciative of your kindness, always—your voice, which rings true. And thank you for your patience with Nadia. And your patience with the release date! I've just decided that it's a week-long event, because, well, why not?

Liviania said...

I am really looking forward to reading this one, because I love Beth's novels. I also love novels with inventive uses of language and where I have to unpack what's happening. I can't wait!

troutbirder said...

Yes but no. A neurological disorder is too close to my present caretaker role now. And Florence is on my bucket list but airtravel to Italy is no longer possible. I'm sure though it's well worth reading based on 'recommendation by Sarah."...;)

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Sarah,

Beth must be delighted when you review her books since, in a relatively short post you can encapsulate the very essence of the novel.

There are several challenging themes running through this novel and it is a brave writer indeed who tackles them. Clearly Beth manages it with great success and that is very much to her credit.

We are always drawn to novels which have a clear sense of place and in which the characters are both credible and developed. These elements all seem to be present here. It all contributes, we can believe, to a great read!

Petra Pavlátková said...

Sarah, some time ago I "liked" the pages of "Humans of New York" on Facebook and I like the stories (long or short) related there by the people having been photographed. One of them was a story of a man who has an autistic son and he mentioned the following: "He loves to draw. I try to look at his drawings to understand his brain. I wish I could get in his head, even for a few minutes, so I could better understand his world." I loved those words and I'm thinking of them now again, after having read your review of this book. I'm going to buy and read it as this interests me and I like what you shared.

Anonymous said...

I am really looking forward to reading this book!

Amanda Summer said...

What a beautiful passage you quote. I like the sound of this evocative and mysterious book with its Florentine setting.

thecuecard said...

Oh I love Italy. Beautiful photo. Books sounds alluring. thanks!

Sarah Laurence said...

Beth, I’m so happy to see your book released and well received!

Liviania, I’m looking forward to your review.

Troutbirder, I’m sorry that you are living this, but I’m sure your support is appreciated.

Jane and Lance, true indeed!

Petra, thanks for sharing that beautiful quotation as it does fit this book too. Do tell me what you think of this novel.

Charlotte, in your capable hands! I’m looking forward to chatting about Beth’s writing with you.

Amanda, this book resonates with your blog.

Thecuecard, I’d love to hear your reaction.

Bee said...

This book sounds fascinating. Will it be published in the UK? It seems like more attention is being focused on neurological disorders, partly because dementia/Alzheimer's affects so many people/families. Fiction is about getting into someone else's thoughts/feelings, but this sort of "voice"/narration takes that to a compelling new level.