Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What We've Lost Is Nothing

What We've Lost Is Nothing by Rachel Louise Snyder
Scribner: 1/21/2014
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476725178

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.

My Thoughts:  

What We've Lost Is Nothing by Rachel Louise Snyder is an incredible, very highly recommended debut novel.

In What We've Lost Is Nothing, Rachel Louise Snyder details what happens to the people over a 2 day period after all the homes on their neighborhood street are burglarized during the day.  The street is Ilios Lane, a cul-de-sac in an area of Oak Park, Illinois, well known for its Diversity Assurance program. When one of the residents optimistically writes that "What we've lost is nothing" in reality it is not quite the truth. The neighbors may have lost things that could be replaced, but what the burglaries really opened the door to were hidden secrets, repressed emotions and attitudes that were all just below the surface.

As the news crews follow the story and the online community is weighing in with their thoughts and opinions, the neighbors find themselves part of a larger discussion. Clearly the neighbors have lost the feeling of security and safety they thought they had in their own homes.  This encroachment on their homes really left them feeling violated. The neighborhood is awash in suspicions, insecurities, and hidden racism. 

Who is to blame? Could the perpetrators be the nearby poor black neighborhoods? Why is one neighbor lying about his vacation? Why was the teenage daughter of a neighbor home? Are the tough-looking Cambodian teens part of a gang? And why don't the parents speak English?

What We've Lost Is Nothing goes on to explore a plethora of emotions and attitudes swirling around the neighbors who are all now victims. The main family Snyder follows is the McPhersons.  Michael feels he should be the one to organize the neighborhood and be a liaison with the police. Susan actually works for the Diversity Assurance program and believes it is a great idea. Their daughter, 15 year old Mary Elizabeth was home during the burglaries. She and another neighborhood teen were experimenting with ecstasy at the time. Mary Elizabeth's brush with fame on the TV news leaves her open to the attention of high school bad boy Caz. The emotional rollercoaster everyone is on is heading for a major crash.

This dynamic debut novel is expertly crafted and smoothly moves from one character to another, carefully revealing the truth behind everyone's words along the way. It could be that Snyder's background as an investigative journalist worked to her benefit in this novel. She presented what we needed to know as expediently and succinctly as possible while also allowing the tension to exponentially build up to the final conclusion. And the conclusion was wholly unexpected but in many ways the novel was leading up to something of that magnitude.

I really enjoyed this novel!

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Scribner for review purposes.


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