Like A Complete Unknown

by Anara Guard

Available in paperback or ebook.

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

Reviews:John Weir on Kenyon Alumni Magazine wrote:

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

on San Francisco Book Review:

“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.”

Diane Donovan on Midwest Book Review 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.

Jennifer Ibiam on Readers' Favorite 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.

Trina Hayes on Hungry for Good Books wrote:

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.

About the Author

Anara studied writing at the Urban Gateways Young Writers Workshop of Chicago with Kathleen Agena, the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts with Norman Corwin, Columbia College Story Workshop, St. Joseph’s College with Stu Dybek, Bread Loaf Writers Conference with Robert Cohen and Alix Ohlin, and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. In 2010, Back Pages Publishing issued her first collection of short stories, The Sound of One Body. Her second story collection, Remedies for Hunger (2014) was named one of the Best Books of 2015 by Chicago Book Review. Read her interview with the Authors Guild.

Her debut novel, Like a Complete Unknown, won Honorable Mention from the Chicago Writers Association's for indie fiction Best Books of 2022, and is an Eric Hoffer Award finalist. Her latest poetry book, Kansas, Reimagined, was published in 2024 by The Poetry Box.

She is also a poet and memoirist. Her poems, improbably enough, have won both a John Crowe Ransom Poetry Prize and a Jack Kerouac Poetry Prize, as well as gold prize from the California State Poetry Society. Her work has recently appeared in The Ear, Gold Man Review, New York Times Tiny Love Stories, Last Stanza Poetry Review, Persimmon Tree, and elsewhere.  She and her sister, Gay Guard-Chamberlin, perform their poetry together as Sibling Revelry. Watch videos of Sibling Revelry here and here

Contact the author, subscribe to her newsletter, visit her website, follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

Quotes from various Sibling Revelry audiences:

Loved your program! The introductions/backgrounds/history for the poems were perfect as well as breaking up the poetry by themes. The interplay between you also worked really well. – Joanne K.

Your reading was a delight!  So much fun to see the similarities and difference between the two of you and your work. You read (and write, of course) so expressively. —Michelle K.

It was such a delight for me.  It was such a treat to hear their work and see how they play off one another with their different personalities and styles of writing.  It was also fun to hear them read each other’s poems.—Ruth K.

I was very grateful for the brief respite your event provided. I ordered your book, so I am anxious for it to arrive. I think my favorite poem may have been the one about “What is Greater than 45” probably because of our current situation. I also loved the poem about her breasts; something I can relate to these days!—Shelli S.

I really loved hearing both of you together and the way your poetry intersects and yet is so different. I think your "concept" in these readings is just so lovely for this strange time. I can imagine writing a dissertation on both of your work and its--maybe "interplay" is the right word? I was definitely seeing your performance art side in the reading. —Abby B.

So lovely to see the two of you together with all your devotees! It was a delightful hour, so thank you. The poems really do come to life and I think you should think about reading each other’s poems more. It adds a certain freedom to the reading, I think. Nina G.

That was a lot of fun. The poem about the mason jar actually got me a little misty ("the grandmother's home we long to return to") so I covered my cam for a second to blink back the tears. The ending about the lip meeting our lips is wonderful, too. And I loved the poem about the crow and its knick-knack shelf.—Erika M.


Other Books By Anara Guard