Everything She Lost by Alessandra Harris.
Red Adept Publishing, Garner, North Carolina, 2017.
Adult thriller, 309 pages.
NOTE: I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Nina Taylor is in recovery from a mental breakdown, and honestly, still suffering from an unexpected loss almost a decade ago. Her best friend is single mom Deja Johnson, a woman with a tragic past of her own. While Nina is wondering if a full recovery is even possible, Deja is wondering where her own life will go next.
I don’t review many thrillers, mainly because I haven’t found many good diverse ones yet. The description of this one immediately sucked me in, especially since I’m always looking for new books about people of color with disabilities.
This book has alternating viewpoints, with one chapter from Nina’s point of view, and the next telling Deja’s part of the story. Normally I’m not a fan of alternating viewpoints, but it worked well here. The narration is from a third person limited point of view rather than first person, and the action moves so quickly that the back-and-forth worked. This book takes place over only a few weeks.
Also, I’m just going to give props for the breakfast scenes, especially in chapter 53. Breakfast is my favorite meal, and it rarely shows up in novels. On a more serious note, while she is not working for most of this novel, I loved that Nina was independently wealthy from her tech career. We need to see more successful STEM career women!
There were some minor edits needed. For example, on page 241, Dr. Austin gives her first name as Nancy, but at a few other points her name is Carol. But overall, in both editing and formatting, the book reads normally. I initially didn’t like the cover, but the spine stands out on the shelf.
Most of the characters are POC, but that isn’t explicit. It’s clear in some scenes, such as when Nina doesn’t want to go swimming because she’d just had her hair done. Music is referred to a few times, and I found it interesting that Nina listens to hip-hop to relax, while Deja prefers classical music.
I was encouraged by the realistic way Nina’s mental illness was treated. She pursued a variety of options, including medication, therapy, exercise, healthy eating, and having an accountability partner. As the situation deteriorates, she also turns to self-medicating, but is aware enough to distance herself from her daughters then. She also reiterates several times that she needs to go to the hospital or the police when she feels out of control.
Her therapist also reacts how I’d expect. They have a plan of care, and when things so south, they refer to the crisis plan. The medical professionals in her life repeatedly point out that “mental illness makes you violent” is a dangerous and untrue stereotype, and even remind her that people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators.
Harris shows how Nina is doing by her actions – she stops eating healthily, going to the gym, and taking care of her appearance. She’s self-medicating and dissociating during her worst moments, and it takes time and care to stop. Deja does not have a mental illness, but she tends to fall back on past actions too.
I figured out one major plot point before the big reveal, but not everything. Since Nina was struggling with her mental health and Deja was a chronic liar, neither was completely reliable.
While their friendship was not healthy, it also was clear they cared about each other. This book was a great illustration of how difficult it can be to deal with challenges without a safety net of friends or family to count on. If Nina hadn’t had her father, and Deja hadn’t found an unexpected source of support, then things could easily have gone even worse than they did.
Like most thrillers, this is a lighter read, but Harris uses the genre to touch on some serious topics. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a tight, fast-paced, doubly diverse novel.