Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review: What We've Lost Is Nothing

What We've Lost Is Nothing
Published By: Scribner
Publication Date: January 21, 2014
Page Count: 320
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience/Genre: Adult/YA Fiction

If you (like me) prefer character-centered novels with large and varied casts of characters over action and tons of plot, you'll enjoy Rachel Louise Snyder's debut novel, What We've Lost Is Nothing. The story is told from multiple perspectives, over the course of a very narrow window of time, following a series of brazen daytime break-ins in an artificially and intentionally unsegregated Chicago neighborhood. The interactions of the diverse group of people give the reader pause and some food for thought about their own prejudices and assumptions, though I did find myself wishing that the page time given to each character was a bit more equitable, mainly because I enjoyed them all equally.

What We've Lost Is Nothing is set in a neighborhood filled with people and families who create a melting pot of wide-ranging socioeconomic groups, races, cultures, and age groups - all of who are brought together by the string of midday break-ins and one home invasion. The novel's first, and main, narrator is Mary Elizabeth McPherson - a high school cheerleader who remains completely oblivious as her home is being invaded by burglars, because she's at home playing hooky with a friend and getting high on Ecstasy at the time the robberies occur. Her parents, neighbors, friends, classmates, and others interject their voices into the story - but hands down, the most developed and vocal characters are Mary Elizabeth and her parents.

And this is where I wish things could have changed a bit. I wanted to know more, much more about the more peripheral, lesser developed characters - the blind, former professor neighbor Mary visits and reads to; her friend's immigrant parents who don't speak any English, but have thousands of dollars saved to send their class-cutting, E-taking daughter to the college of her choice; the well-off, a bit uptight white couple who seem too afraid of being accused of "white flight" or racism to say out loud that they're too afraid to live in the neighborhood. These were the people I found most intriguing, which could be because I spent so much time with the McPhearsons, but I found myself thinking they didn't get nearly enough page time comparatively.

But, though I longed for a bit more depth in the characters themselves, the novel was an enjoyable read. They're different enough to keep the reader interested and the action takes place over a 24 hour period, so there is little time to get bored. The questions it raises may make some readers uncomfortable as they examine their own reactions to someone who looks or speaks or acts different than they do, the judgements they pass without thinking. At times, I do wish Snyder had trusted her readers a bit more to come up with the themes and ideas contained in the novel's pages on their own, versus what occasionally (and only occasionally) felt like being hit over the head with or spoon-fed her message.

Last Word: A good read that makes you question whether or not, when push comes to shove and your world had been (literally) invaded, you really are as accepting of people as you'd like to think. Also, the novel has a diverse range of characters that kept me interested.

Summary via Goodreads

In her striking debut novel, Rachel Louise Snyder chronicles the twenty-four hours following a mass burglary in a Chicago suburb and the suspicions, secrets, and prejudices that surface in its wake.

Nestled on the edge of Chicago’s gritty west side, Oak Park is a suburb in flux. To the west, theaters and shops frame posh houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. To the east lies a neighborhood still recovering from urban decline. In the center of the community sits Ilios Lane, a pristine cul-de-sac dotted with quiet homes that bridge the surrounding extremes of wealth and poverty.

On the first warm day in April, Mary Elizabeth McPherson, a lifelong resident of Ilios Lane, skips school with her friend Sofia. As the two experiment with a heavy dose of ecstasy in Mary Elizabeth’s dining room, a series of home invasions rocks their neighborhood. At first the community is determined to band together, but rising suspicions soon threaten to destroy the world they were attempting to create. Filtered through a vibrant pinwheel of characters, Snyder’s tour de force evokes the heightened tension of a community on edge as it builds toward one of the most explosive conclusions in recent fiction. Incisive and panoramic, What We’ve Lost is Nothing illuminates the evolving relationship between American cities and their suburbs, the hidden prejudices that can threaten a way of life, and the redemptive power of tolerance in a community torn asunder.

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