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The Things We Save
A broken 45 rpm record held together with adhesive tape, a fading stack of Polaroids, a cobalt blue perfume bottle, and a braid of human hair … these are just some of the things Claire Sokol keeps stashed in an old Marshall Field’s gift box. But how did they get there and what do they signify? If these relics could talk, what stories would they tell? The tale of a child torn between the bitter sermons of a troubled, troublesome mother and the honeyed praise of the beautiful, sophisticated woman who just might be her fairy godmother? Of an innocent girl and boy lost in a dark, forbidding forest of adult lies and deceit? Of a young woman fighting to save a beloved father from his worst enemy – himself? Of a young man's death, a tragedy from which to flee or a mystery to finally solve? The Things We Save tells the story of the ways, both subtle and brutal, that a family falls apart and the intimate struggle to put what remains back together. It asks provocative questions about the nature of love, the corrosive effects of envy and guilt, and the limits of forgiveness. The Things We Save is for anyone who has ever slammed out a door with the vow to never return, only to find his or her way back home again.

Semi Finalist

Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.50 out of 10


In this dark but honest novel, Claire Sokal, 38, helps her father clean out her grandmother’s house after the funeral. While doing so, she unravels her past and haunting family secrets. Zienty grabs hold of the reader from the beginning and never lets go as she reveals the family's history. Steeped in detail and told in present day and flashback, Zienty is able to create and sustain a mood that will ring true to all readers who won’t want to look away.

Date Submitted: July 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews

In Zienty’s debut novel, a family struggles through loss and painful history, exploring the things that haunt us and help us remember, everything from artifacts to junk to treasures.

Claire Sokol is a mother drawn back to her hometown of Chicago to help her father sort through her grandmother’s belongings after her death. During the process, she finds artifacts that recall the memory of the boys that haunt her—her brother, Joey, and her cousin, Jamie. A museum curator, Claire knows the significance of relics—she saves photographs, vinyl records, a lock of hair in an old Marshall Fields box, a treasure trove of memories buried in a drawer. Aaron, Claire’s lover and the father of her daughter, Tally—a family unit to which Claire just can’t seem to fully commit—is an archeologist who says of artifacts and memories, “The questions are always the same: why is it there and what does it signify?” Zienty excavates a family story, carefully uncovering why Claire feels such anger toward her father, how Claire lost her brother and cousin, the latter having become her close comrade after Joey’s death, and why Claire feels guilt over her one-time admiration for Aunt Peach, Jamie’s captivating mother, in the face of her own mother’s death. The novel lyrically works at the tension between the need to save and the need to forget, coming to the realization that sometimes you need to do both in order to move on and try to forgive. Zienty clears away the layers of dust and grime with a steady hand, leaving the raw surface of emotion signified by belongings no longer buried and memories no longer forgotten.

A well-plotted, lyrical novel filled with the harsh emotions of a family torn apart by death.