In 1969, a girl’s life is not her own. Katya Warshawsky’s parents demand she drop out of high school and join a cleaning crew. Instead, she runs away, hoping to join hippies, anti-war protestors, and aspiring artists like herself. But Chicago’s counterculture isn’t as welcoming as she dreamed. Widowed doctor Robert Lewis worries how much longer to keep his medical practice open: he can offer little help to his most desperate patients. When Katya—starry-eyed, barefoot, and in trouble—appears in his office, a rash impulse propels him into the turbulent streets of Chicago. While Katya hunts for freedom and Dr. Lewis searches for her, they encounter chaos and beauty as they both risk a new unknown life.
Finalist, Eric Hoffer Awards, 2023
Winner, Honorable Mention by the Chicago Writers Association for indie fiction Book of the Year 2022.
"A beautifully written debut novel with rich, complex characters bound by their tumultuous personal histories and the volatile political landscape of the late 1960's. Against the grit and beauty of counterculture Chicago, we are allowed to love these flawed, isolated people, and to feel joy as they create renewed lives.”
-- Meredith Hall, author of Beneficence
on San Francisco Book Review:
Guard’s fourth book and first novel, “Like a Complete Unknown,” follows Katya, a runaway teen with a dream of becoming an artist, and Dr. Lewis, a physician who wants to help her. Guard brings these seemingly disparate characters together to explore friendship, with a satisfying redemption arc that makes the story unforgettable. While at Kenyon, Guard received the John Crowe Ransom Poetry Prize, so it’s no surprise that even her prose is filled with artful, poetic language that proves she’s expert in both crafts.
~Kenyon Alumni Magazine
Diane Donovan on Midwest Book Review wrote:
“In this stunning debut novel, Anara Guard weaves together the fragments of a runaway girl’s life against the backdrop of 1970s Chicago. Her voice is lyrical and self-aware, allowing the reader to fully immerse their self in Katya’s angst and yearnings with a gentle grace that can only come from sympathetic knowing…her deep understanding of story and character show mastery of the bildungsroman and novel writing…lulling the reader into her character’s painful, beautiful world.”
Jennifer Ibiam on Readers' Favorite wrote:
This story of change, transformation, and growth captures not only the social and political milieu of the 1960s, but its pitfalls and opportunities. Readers who want a sense of what these times were like and the struggles experienced by those both within and outside of the system will find Like A Complete Unknown a vivid, thought-provoking story that captures this world from two different experiences.
Trina Hayes on Hungry for Good Books wrote:
Like a Complete Unknown by Anara Guard was a fantastic page-turner that broke my heart and mended it. This novel had pieces that came together to make a perfect whole. Anara wrote from the heart, giving the book depth and originality. The story was unique, realistic, relatable, and an accurate depiction of the travails of women, especially in core traditional and religious settings. Anara Guard developed flawed yet appealing characters and interpreted scenes in ways that tugged at my heartstrings. Katya was naïve yet sharp-witted, scared yet resourceful, and industrious. She could make something out of nothing. The author also showed that activists aren’t always the kindest or most decent humans in private. I couldn’t get over Harlow. Dr. Robert was my highlight of the novel, and I would appreciate a sequel that shows what became of Katya.
Read Like a Complete Unknown to step into authentic, technicolor 1970 Chicago where you can feel the roar of the El overhead. Experience the growing pains of young Katya as she embraces who she wants to become despite having no say about her body. Celebrate the emergence of Dr. Lewis from his self-inflicted cocoon into a world where he can help others and experience love. Grasp the fears of 18-year-olds whose birthdates meant being sent to die in Viet Nam. Like a Complete Unknown will embed you in 1970 Chicago and the lives of characters you’ll love.
Book Group Reading Guide available for download.