There are many reasons to like Beth Kephart’s One Thing Stolen. The story unfolds in present-day Florence and includes interesting historical references. Nadia has been reluctantly displaced from her Philadelphia home and her best friend Maggie in order to live temporarily in Florence with her mother, brother and father, a professor who is writing a book about the 1966 flooding of the Arno river and the so called “mud angels” –an onslaught of volunteers who converged on the city to save its artwork. Much of the book is an interior monologue conveying Nadia’s growing fascination with a mysterious and beautiful boy on a Vespa who may or may not really exist and her memories of time spent with Maggie back in West Philadelphia. At the same time, the reader becomes increasingly attuned to the fact that something is wrong with Nadia. Her speaking abilities are deteriorating, and she is increasingly obsessed with stealing objects that she then incorporates into intricate nests she constructs and hides in her temporary bedroom. Over time, the reader gains more of the family’s perspective, and a neurologist is brought in to untangle what is happening to Nadia. The suspense mounts as the reader eagerly waits to find out whether Benedetto, the boy on the Vespa, is real, and what affliction Nadia has been stricken with.
Many readers will enjoy this book’s suspense, its characters and the lovely and historical setting. However, those who find flashbacks and changes in narrator difficult to follow will find the story confusing, and become frustrated towards the end of the book when Nadia’s friend Maggie suddenly becomes the narrator just at the point where we wish a clear resolution to all of the mystery. In addition, it is not particularly believable that a well-respected neurologist who is an old friend of Nadia’s father and a former “mud angel” happens to coincidentally be on-hand to help the family. Recommended with reservations. 2015