An articulate first-person narrator. A vivid sense of place (often a foreign one). Strong cross-generational relationships. The examination of an issue from an uncommon, unexpected perspective. These are some of the things I’ve found to be characteristic to Beth Kephart’s young-adult novels. These are some of the common elements I’ve come to expect from her fiction. And yet, with all this in common, none of her books ever feels the same as anything she’s done before. Kephart previously explored mental illness in You Are My Only (2011), but her dealing with the subject in One Thing Stolen is quite different.
Rather than resulting from traumatic events, Nadia Cara’s condition arises organically; it’s a rare neurological disorder that begins to show itself during her family’s year in a foreign country.
Nadia was supposed to be her father’s assistant during his sabbatical year in Florence, helping him research the effects of the flood that ravaged the city in 1966, but she’s become unreliable. She disappears for hours at a time. She steals things, and spends half the night weaving them into nests, which she’s hiding under the bed. She’s trying to find a mystery boy with a backpack full of flowers, riding a Vespa. And she, quite literally, can explain none of it—she’s losing the ability to communicate, or even to think clearly, in words.
When your protagonist is becoming increasingly confused and unable to speak, it might seem like an odd choice to employ the first-person narrator. However, Kephart’s gifts with language are beautifully (if perhaps ironically) at work here, conveying Nadia’s fear and disorientation from the inside. It’s effective, disturbing, and dark—and then it’s pulled back from the edge by the introduction of Nadia’s best friend, Maggie, to take over the narration of the last third of the novel and inject a note of determined hope.
Beth Kephart’s fiction doesn’t ignite controversy. It doesn’t address particularly “hot” topics. It doesn’t get attention for being edgy. And yet, I am consistently impressed with this author’s narrative ambition and courage, her interest in exploring unfashionable topics because they’re what matter to her, and her distinctive, gorgeous writing. I don’t read a lot of YA fiction, but I will always read Beth Kephart’s. One Thing Stolen is an intimate, moving portrait of a family in crisis in a strange place, and I think it will stay with me for a long time to come.
Something is not right with Nadia Cara. While spending a year in Florence, Italy, she’s become a thief. She has secrets. And when she tries to speak, the words seem far away. Nadia finds herself trapped by her own obsessions and following the trail of an elusive Italian boy whom only she has seen. Can Nadia be rescued or will she simply lose herself altogether? Set against the backdrop of a glimmering city, One Thing Stolen is an exploration of obsession, art, and a rare neurological disorder. It is a celebration of language, beauty, imagination, and the salvation of love.
From Chapter One:
“If you could see me. If you were near.
“This, I would say.
“This is the apartment that does not belong to me. This is where I’ve come to. Florence, Italy. Santa Croce. The second ﬂoor oﬀ Verrazzano. These are the windows in the front and the windows in the back and the long grainy planks in between. This is what the owners, the Vitales, left behind: Their smell (mothballs, glue, tomato paste). Their winter coats and boots (bear backs and houndstooth). Their razors, creams, and gallon bleaches, their yellow butter tubs and Kool-Aid-colored ﬂasks and wide-bottomed drinking glasses from which the ivy grows. Up the walls, across the picture frames, over a bridge of thumbtacks, that ivy grows.
“See? I would say.