All the Lost Things

A Novel

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By Michelle Sacks

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From “a master of slow-burn suspense” (Shelf Awareness), a simmering family drama about a father and daughter who embark on a road trip through the American South — but what they’re leaving behind is as important as what lies ahead.

When we first meet seven-year-old Dolly, she immediately grabs us with a voice that is both precocious and effervescent. It has been a while since her dad has spent time with her, just the two of them, and so when he scoops her up and promises to take her on the adventure of a lifetime, Dolly is thrilled.

The first days on the road are incredibly exciting. Every pit stop promises a new delight for Dolly and her favourite plastic horse, Clemesta, who she’s brought along for the adventure. There are milkshakes, shopping sprees, a theme park, and all the junk food she isn’t allowed to eat under her mother’s watchful eye. And, for the first time, she has her father’s attention all to herself. But as they travel farther south, into a country Dolly no longer recognizes, her dad’s behavior grows increasingly erratic. He becomes paranoid and irresponsible, even a little scary. The adventure isn’t fun anymore, but home is ever further away. And Dolly isn’t sure if she’ll ever get back.

A compulsively readable work of psychological suspense from the first mile to the last, All the Lost Things introduces a remarkable young heroine who leaps off the page, charts a life-changing journey, and ultimately reveals the sometimes heartbreaking intersections of love, truth, and memory.

Excerpt

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Saturday

I was rescuing a baby lion when Dad scooped me up into his arms and carried me away. Clemesta and I were in the middle of complicated surgery to deliver a cub who was stuck inside her mom’s belly and couldn’t get out to be born. I was doing the operation part because I am very good at all kinds of medical healing, and Clemesta was the nurse assistant, passing me things whenever I called for them, like SCALPEL CUTTER or SKIN STITCHER or CUB GRABBER TONGS. The game is called VET RESCUE and we save a lot of precious animal lives every day and make them feel better if they are sick or if they get injured from vicious fights. I said BLOOD SUCKER PLEASE but before Clemesta could pass it over, Dad had taken us out to the car and that’s how the best day started.

  

“Where are we going?” I said. Dad plonked me down on the back seat. His face was a little shiny and he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.

“Dad,” I said, “where are you taking me?”

“You and I are going on an adventure,” Dad said. His breath smelled of one hundred cups of coffee and the ghosty part of something else.

He gave me a big smile with all his teeth and a wink with one of his eyes, and then he tapped my nose twice which made me scrunch up my face.

“An adventure?” I said.

Dad nodded. “Oh yes,” he said. “An adventure.”

  

I was ONE HUNDRED PERCENT excited because an adventure was an enormous and unexpected surprise and usually those are only for birthdays or Christmas morning. That’s only two days of the whole entire year which has 365 days in it usually but 366 days when it’s a LEAP YEAR that jumps ahead but only every four years on the 29th of February. That’s also the birthday of that boy Deacon in my class with the extra-big ears, but he still gets a party every year. Anyway, I was THRILLED IN PIECES and when Dad strapped me in with the seat belt I didn’t tell him that I could do it myself since FOREVER because I was too busy spinning around in my brain thinking about where we could be going and what exactly an adventure was and how come we were taking one JUST LIKE THAT on an ordinary and regular Saturday morning with no special plans marked with a red pen in the family calendar of ENGLISH COUNTRY GARDENS that stays in place on the refrigerator with three magnets that look like cookies but taste like plastic so don’t even try them.

Dad climbed in front and set a duffel bag on the seat next to him. He wiped his face again with his hand.

“Who’s coming along for the adventure?” I said.

“Just us,” he said. “You and me.”

“And Clemesta,” I said, because Clemesta HATES to be left out of anything and gets very grouchy if she is.

  

Dad started the car and I made sure to strap Clemesta in SAFE AND SOUND so she would also be protected if we had an accident or if the car fell off a bridge, which really does happen sometimes. I saw it on TV once. The rescue team had to tie ropes around the car to lift it out of the water. Everyone inside was already dead from drowning, which is actually the FOURTH LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH in this country. I forget what number one is, maybe heart disease or that cancer, which makes millions of people dead all the time, like the man who used to live down the street and the principal from my old school Miss Jessop who went bald from it, and Mom’s mom who was my grandma, and also lots of other people whose names I don’t remember right exactly now.

  

Dad pulled the car out of the driveway and I turned back to watch our house, which is 31-42 Crescent Street, Astoria, New York, zip code 11106, and a very beautiful and lovely house of red bricks with a whole yard in the back just for me. The yard has a big old tree standing in the middle and Dad promised to build me a tree house in there one day soon. I will call it DOLLY HEADQUARTERS INCORPORATED and I will sleep there some nights if there are GUARANTEED no spiders or sneaky mice waiting to nibble me for their tasty midnight snack. Clemesta will stay with me of course because she never leaves my side.

Inside my stomach, I had ONE THOUSAND butterflies. Stomach butterflies are special ones that get inside your belly when you are very nervous or very excited about something. Mine were beautiful and colorful and tropical jungle butterflies and they were flying around having a big party with streamers and balloons.

I gave Clemesta a squeeze.

“Where are we going for the adventure?” I asked Dad.

He typed something into his phone while we waited at the lights.

“It’s a surprise,” he said.

“But tell me!”

“I can’t,” he said. “Not yet.”

“But you have to give me a clue,” I said. “So I can start to guess. Then you can say ‘warm, warmer, FIERY HOT’ if I get close, or ‘cool, cooler, ICE FREEZE’ if I’m wrong. That’s how it works.”

Dad scratched his chin. “Uh,” he said. “Well, it’s a place.”

“What kind of a place?”

“A great place.”

“Better than here?”

“Yeah.”

“Like the best place in the world?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s Disneyland!” I said.

“No, it’s not Disneyland.”

I flopped back in the seat and made a BOO HOO face which is when my whole mouth turns itself upside down to tell everyone that I am sad and disappointed inside.

“It’s better than Disneyland,” Dad said. “Even more fun. You’ll love it.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.”

“How long till we get there?”

“A couple days,” Dad said. “Not too long.”

“Days?”

“Yeah.” I looked at the duffel bag poking out from the front seat.

“Did you already pack all our stuff?”

“Yeah.”

“All my stuff too?”

“Yeah.”

“But I didn’t tell you everything of what I needed.”

“I guessed it,” Dad said. “Because I wanted it to be a surprise for you.”

“Oh. That’s nice. And it’s just us,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“You and me and Clemesta.”

Dad nodded.

“What about Mom?”

Dad looked at me in the mirror with his big brown eyes that are the same exact eyes as mine. “Oh, Mom’s away on her girls’ weekend, remember?”

I yawned because my sleep still didn’t want to go away even though it was way past wake-up time. “With Rita?” I said.

Dad nodded.

“I guess I forgot.”

“She left early,” Dad said. “Before you were up.”

“Oh.”

“That’s why I thought we should have a Dolly and Dad weekend.”

I nodded. “Yeah, and probably we’ll have even more fun.”

I remembered the Vet Rescue game and the kicked-over ambulance lying on the porch.

“I hope the lion cub is okay,” I said to Clemesta.

“She’ll be fine,” Clemesta said. “It’s only pretend anyway.”

“Yeah, and we’re going on a for-real adventure. That’s more important.”

“Yeah.”

“Actually we never went on a for-real adventure before. Just that vacation of three nights and four days to Montauk with Mom and Dad.”

“Yeah,” Clemesta said, “but this is different.”

“Exactly,” I said. “Because it’s a surprise and we didn’t know it was going to happen until three seconds ago.”

Clemesta nodded and my butterflies went whooshing again. I was very excited to have Dad all to myself.

  

Clemesta was full up with butterflies just like me and that’s because the two of us are actual twins. We are fluent in TELEPATHY which means we can speak to each other with only our minds, and we can also read each other’s thoughts and see into each other’s hearts. We always feel the same way about everything, like our favorite foods or when we’re sad or the people we don’t like and wish we could make disappear in a puff of vanishing magic. Clemesta and I also have matching twin hair, which is called CHESTNUT BROWN and is very long and lustrous. That means thick and shiny and more beautiful than anyone else’s. She brushes my hair and I brush hers with ONE HUNDRED STROKES per day to keep it this way. It’s a lot of work but it is very worth it because we love our silky hair a whole lot and also that’s what princesses do to keep their hair beautiful and strong enough for princes to climb up if they don’t have a ladder to get to the top of your tower.

  

As Dad drove down the street, our house got smaller and smaller, and that’s because of PERSPECTIVE which is a big word that I can spell in my head and also on paper because I have an ADVANCED BRAIN. That’s what Miss Ellis says and she’s my teacher so she knows all about First Grader brains. Probably Miss Ellis knows everything in the whole entire world, that’s how smart she is, but she is also very kind and nice and that’s why I made her a Valentine’s Day card this year with a chocolate heart stapled on the front. It melted a little from being in my bag, but she didn’t mind and she said it was SCRUMPTIOUS which is like delicious but even more tasty.

Miss Ellis has started giving me extra homework to do on the weekends which sounds like a punishment but is actually a good thing to make me even smarter and keep me STIMULATED IN THE BRAIN, which everyone says is a sponge that likes to soak things up and the more the merrier. Because of being advanced, I can spell very tough words like PALEONTOLOGY and PHOSPHATES and I know how to stop someone from choking to death and I can also make a fire from rubbing sticks together, even though I never tried it for real yet, but I can still do it anytime I might need to. I am also good at Math and remembering all the countries and I know magic tricks like making coins appear out of people’s ears and I can cast spells that are sometimes good and a few times bad but only if someone deserves it like YOU KNOW WHO.

  

Dad turned at the lights and we drove past Mr. Abdul standing on the sidewalk outside the bodega. I waved to him but I guess he was too busy smoking his DISGUSTING CIGARETTES to wave back. Even though he smokes and will probably die from lung cancer or rot his gums until they bleed and turn black, he is a very nice man and very friendly to me whenever we go and buy something from him. Before we leave, Mr. Abdul always says, “You have a terrific day, Little Lady,” and I say, “DITTO,” which is a word I like very much and try to use whenever I can. My other favorite words at the moment are bumblebee, preposterous, and funicular. Miss Ellis lets me take home the class dictionary on the weekends so I can learn all the words in the whole world. First in English and then maybe all the other languages too.

I know millions of words but not all of them are nice. Some of the WORST WORDS in the world are divorce, Los Angeles, and depressed, which are all very bad things. Another word for bad is AWFUL and another word for awful is HORRENDOUS. Horrendous rhymes with tremendous but it means something different and I know that too.

  

I liked being in the car just with Dad. I especially liked being in the new car, which was a shiny and fancy Jeep Renegade. Dad is very lucky, because he gets a new car whenever he wants, he just has to say NEW CAR PLEASE and there it is. That’s because he has a very important job at VALUE MOTORS selling people their shiny new cars. They have HUNDREDS of them and all of the cars are nice and new-looking, and inside they smell of fresh pinecones because they have air fresheners hanging off the mirrors in the shape of real trees to make you feel like you’re sitting in a forest and not a car. I wish they would make other flavors, like hot fudge sauce or chocolate chip cookies, and then you could feel like you were inside an ice-cream parlor or maybe a kitchen with a lovely mom at the oven baking your favorite treats for you.

Anyway, you have to be VERY SMART for a job like Dad’s, and he is and he wears a gray suit every day along with a badge that says his name and the word SALES EXECUTIVE beneath it. Dad is up for a promotion soon and that means he will get an even more important badge, FINGERS CROSSED. He will also get more money and that’s good news because MONEY IS TIGHT and the house is MORTGAGED TO THE HILT and that means BILLS BILLS BILLS which are the worst thing to see on the kitchen table because as soon as one goes away another one pops up and opens its greedy envelope mouth and says “feed me your money right now.”

Sometimes I use my magic disappearing tricks and I make the bills vanish in my bedroom under the bed. That way Mom and Dad won’t get in a cloudy mood and feel stressed out. Stress is a disease that grown-ups get when they are unhappy and it can actually kill them, so I always try very hard to keep them in good spirits. I do this with GOOD BEHAVIOR and LISTENING and BEING DELIGHTFUL and STAYING OUT OF TROUBLE and also MAKING FUN JOKES. Once I heard someone say that laughter is the best medicine and that means if someone is sick or sad you can cure them with a joke but it has to be extra-funny and not too rude or else they will get mad.

  

Today was the first time I was getting to drive in the new Jeep because Dad only brought it home last month. Maybe it was before that, but anyway he didn’t have a chance to take anyone for a ride yet.

The Jeep was beige inside and spotlessly clean, and the seats were soft and squidgy smooth, like a very comfortable sofa in your living room. I pressed the button to open the window, and then close it, and then open it again, until I found the perfect amount of VENTILATION which is air and another word I can spell if I concentrate hard. Ventilation rhymes with nation rhymes with station. That’s another thing I am excellent at, is making rhyming words. Miss Ellis has a reading game where you have to call out a rhyming word at the end of every sentence and I always win it because I always have a very good word sitting in my brain waiting to make a match. That’s not bragging, it’s just FACTUALLY TRUE, like the fact that the earth is a round ball or that it’s bad luck to step on sidewalk cracks because little invisible trolls live there and they will eat your toes if you cross the line. Also you shouldn’t talk to black cats, that’s bad luck too. Sometimes if I see one I say, “Sorry, Beloved Cat, I wish we could chat, but we can’t.” They always understand because they are used to people saying that, even though they don’t feel unlucky.

  

Being in the Jeep on an adventure was an extra-special treat, like ice cream for breakfast or finding a five-dollar bill on the street, and it was a double treat because Dad was all for me and that ALMOST NEVER PROBABLY EVER happens.

In my head I made up a song called “Adventure,” which went like this:

We’re going on an adventure, ho-ho-ho,

Dad and Dolly and Clemesta, off we go!

I sang it for Dad and he smiled. He didn’t sing along. Probably he didn’t know the words yet and he was concentrating on the traffic which is your job when you’re the driver. It’s the same as if you’re in an airplane. You can’t distract the pilot with songs or he’ll go the wrong way in the sky and crash into all the migrating birds.

Clemesta and I watched out the window as we passed the tire shop and the funeral parlor where dead bodies are kept until they go into the ground, and we saw all the building sites which everyone says are TAKING OVER the neighborhood. I watched a man with a plastic bag over his hand bend down to pick up his poodle’s poop and I was happy that he was being responsible because everyone knows IF YOUR DOG POOPS, YOU SCOOP. When I have a dog, I will train him to pick up his own poop so I won’t ever have to touch it because that would be disgusting and then I bet my hand would stink all day long and no one at school would want to play with me. I will also train him to fetch snacks from the kitchen and do cartwheels, because you can train dogs to do anything except probably drive a truck.

Dad gave the steering wheel a whack with his hand.

“Come on,” he said, but we didn’t move, we just stayed trapped in our traffic jam with all the other cars trying to get somewhere. I bet nobody else was headed for an adventure, I bet they were only going to buy groceries or get blood tests at the doctor.

“LUCKY DUCK,” I said to Clemesta. “We are two lucky ducks.”

  

Dad took a sneaky turn down the next street to try and get out of the traffic.

“Look,” I showed him, “that’s Savannah’s house down there.”

“Hmm?” he said.

“Savannah,” I said.

“Who’s that?”

“She’s my best friend.”

“Oh.”

“Maybe I forgot to tell you.”

I gave my lip a chew in the meaty part. Clemesta poked me in the ribs.

“Hey!” she said.

“She’s only my best friend when I’m at school,” I told her. “The rest of the time you’re my best friend ONE MILLION PERCENT.”

Dad came to the end of Savannah’s street and turned left. We were right back in the traffic and it was still jammed.

“Goddamn,” he said.

Another car tried to slide in front of the Jeep but Dad wouldn’t let him. The man threw up his hands and shook his head. Dad squeezed his hand into a fist like you do when you’re getting ready to make a punch. I do punching exercises too to get strong and fit and IN SHAPE like Mom, but also for SELF-DEFENSE which means you can protect yourself from bad guys when they come up behind you on the street and you just whack them HI-YAH like that with your elbow. They fall down on the ground and you run away as fast as you can.

“My second-best friend is Casey,” I told Dad. “She has a pet snake. But it lives in a big glass box. It can’t escape unless you take it out.”

Dad didn’t say anything.

“It eats rats,” I said. “They keep them in the freezer. Not where their regular food is, but in a special one just for frozen rats. I think it’s in the basement. They also have a gerbil but she lives in a different cage.”

  

Dad was tapping the wheel with his fingers and staring ahead. I guess he was trying to keep every bit of his attention on the road so he wouldn’t get us lost. Being lost is the SECOND WORST THING in the world and I would know because it happened to me once. Mom and I were at the Queens Zoo which was a special treat for me getting ten gold stars on my GOOD BEHAVIOR CHART on the back of my bedroom door. You get a gold star for being polite and getting good grades or for doing chores and not complaining about stuff and also sometimes for keeping important secrets.

Mom and I had been looking at Mrs. Puma and then next thing she said she looked around and I was gone and she was in a FLAT PANIC. I was also in a panic as soon as I realized I was lost, which was when I was talking to the Andean Bear and he said, “Dolly, where’s your mom?”

I tried to remember everything about not talking to strangers and finding a grown-up to help and not climbing into the animal enclosures even if they invite you inside for a chat and say PRETTY PLEASE. I found the security lady who was walking around near the entrance and I gave her Mom’s phone number which I keep stored in my brain for emergencies. Inside I was shaking like Jell-O because I thought maybe I’d never ever find Mom or see Dad or go home to my house, and then I’d have to live in the zoo or get adopted by the security lady who had bad breath and a lot of flaky white pieces on her scalp which I bet would fall into all the food she cooked and then I’d have to eat it.

Luckily, Mom answered her phone right away and said, “DOLLY DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN,” and I didn’t and I won’t.

Sometimes Mom has good advice and sometimes she is only full of STUPIDITY.

  

Dad’s eyes in the mirror were popped wide open like he was doing a staring contest. We do them on nights when he comes back home early from work. We lock our matching eyes together and try not to blink. Most of the time I giggle and blink first. That’s losing the contest but actually winning, too, because it’s fun and I’m laughing at the end.

As Dad drove, I was trying to keep all the things I wanted to tell him safe in a list inside my head. I wanted to remind him about all the IMPORTANT FACTS about me in case he didn’t remember, like that my favorite flavor of ice cream is RASPBERRY SORBET, and that I can do hip-hop dancing and ballet and tap and that I’m not scared of spiders, except a tiny bit if they are very enormous and hairy, and that I am saving up all my money to buy a jewelry box that is made of red satin with real gold beads sewn on the top. Inside there’s a beautiful ballerina who dances to music every time you open the lid and it’s the best treasure I have ever seen.

I also wanted to tell Dad about Miss Ellis and the new class assignment which is called KINDNESS WEEK where you have to try and do nice things for strangers, like picking up litter on the sidewalk or giving someone a hug if they look lonely and sad. My list was getting so long it was starting not to fit in my head and I wished I had a notepad outside my brain for writing it all down instead. My handwriting isn’t as advanced as my brain but Miss Ellis says if I keep practicing it will be perfect in no time.

I sang the “Adventure” song again but softly and only to Clemesta.

“Your voice is lovely,” she said, “like an angel or a world-famous pop star.”

“Thank you,” I said. I combed my fingers through her hair. It was as soft as velvet.

Dad took the exit for the tunnel and I knew that was the way you go to get to Manhattan because I have been HUNDREDS of times with Mom. Mostly we take the N train from home and we get out wherever is nearest to the place Mom has marked on her map. The trips sometimes used to be fun but not anymore. Now they just put me in a THUNDERCLOUD mood for the whole day. That’s not Manhattan’s fault, it’s hers.

One thing I like a lot about Manhattan is looking at all the buildings in the city because they go up to the sky and probably the moon. The shape of them is called the SKYLINE and once I had a whole coloring book full of all the different ones in the world. For Manhattan, I made the colors look like nighttime and it was very beautiful.

I recognized some of the streets we were passing, and the big shops with the bright flashing signs and the street vendors and the MILLIONS of people who were all in a great big hurry. There were hundreds of dads walking around Manhattan and I felt sorry for their kids that they weren’t going on an adventure. Probably the other children in my class would call me a SPOILED BRAT but I didn’t care because we were going to the best place in the world that’s even better than Disneyland, and it was a special adventure just for us.

“Anyway, you deserve a special treat,” Clemesta said, “and maybe they don’t. Maybe they are bad or rude or ungrateful.”

“Exactly. Especially Neshi. She is all of those things.”

We passed a homeless man pushing his shopping cart. He had a sign around his neck and I turned my head to read it because I like to read everything and I am always looking for new words to collect.

Genre:

  • "A slim road trip into mystery firmly in the vein of Emma Donoghue's Room...Dolly is a funny and surprisingly substantive little girl, and an acute observer of human behavior...Surprisingly emotional."—Vanessa Friedman, New York Times Book Review
  • "Sacks proves herself a master of slow-burn suspense...The tension in this emotionally nuanced novel comes not from the question of what Dolly's father actually did...but from where this physical journey and mental unfolding may take them, and what might be lost along the way. Michelle Sacks's All the Lost Things delivers a poignant portrayal of a child in the midst of unthinkable circumstances."
    Alice Martin, Shelf Awareness
  • "This book carried the power of Emma Donoghue's amazing Room...I loved this enchanting book. Dolly Rust captivated me from the first page and I could not look away. I am in awe of Michelle Sacks's writing skill in finding a unique voice that is precocious and pure, innocent and wise, tender and brave. She climbs into a seven-year-old's mind whose world is broken and steers us over rocky roads to a safe haven."—Leah Weiss, bestselling author of If The Creek Don't Rise
  • "A book not to be missed. Michelle Sacks digs deep into the nature of emotional survival in this enthralling, heartbreaking tale. You will not close this book dry-eyed but you will fall in love with Dolly and her sidekick Clemesta, just as I did. "—Susan Crandall, bestselling author of Whistling Past the Graveyard and The Myth of Perpetual Summer
  • "A gripping domestic tale...From the moment their so-called 'adventure' begins, a sense of foreboding permeates...The author is adept at generating tension and showing the inevitability of the past (and the law) catching up."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "Sacks's second novel is another family drama tinged with psychological suspense...Dolly's unreliability as a narrator, owing to the simple fact that she is a child, adds suspense and results in a surprising twist."
    Kathy Sexton, Booklist
  • Praise for You Were Made for This

"Riveting...Sacks delivers a brilliant, unflinching look at a household under siege from itself." —Associated Press
  • "A searing first novel. A picture-perfect family leading picture-perfect lives is gradually, unnervingly unpeeled."—David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
  • "Sacks's storytelling shines...She explores the ways in which unhealthy relationships can wreak irrevocable damage on those involved--and everyone surrounding."—Megan McCluskey, Time Magazine
  • "An engrossing tale that probes the darker corners of motherhood, friendship, and marriage."—Good Housekeeping
  • "Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye meets the set of a David Lynch film in this haunting, psychological portrait that takes the dark domestic thriller into a new, literary realm."—Shelf Awareness
  • "Full of heart-wrenching twists and turns... Richly compelling."—Jennifer McMahon, New York Times bestselling author of The Winter People
  • "A sinister, razor's edge of a book. I was, in turn, totally gripped, completely unsettled, and not just a little freaked out... You definitely won't be able to put it down."—Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of The Red Hunter
  • On Sale
    Jun 4, 2019
    Page Count
    288 pages
    ISBN-13
    9780316475440

    Michelle Sacks

    About the Author

    Michelle Sacks is the author of the novel You Were Made for This and the story collection Stone Baby. She was born in South Africa and holds a master’s degree in literature and film from the University of Cape Town. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and for two South African PEN Literary Awards.

    Learn more about this author