The Stolen Year

How COVID Changed Children's Lives, and Where We Go Now


By Anya Kamenetz

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An NPR education reporter shows how the pandemic disrupted children’s lives—and how our country has nearly always failed to put our children first

The onset of COVID broke a 150-year social contract between America and its children. Tens of millions of students lost what little support they had from the government—not just school but food, heat, and physical and emotional safety. The cost was enormous.

But this crisis began much earlier than 2020. In The Stolen Year, Anya Kamenetz exposes a long-running indifference to the plight of children and families in American life and calls for a reckoning.

She follows families across the country as they live through the pandemic, facing loss and resilience: a boy with autism in San Francisco who gains a foster brother and a Hispanic family in Texas that loses a member to COVID, and finds solace when they need it most. Kamenetz also recounts the history that brought us to this point: how we thrust children and caregivers into poverty, how we over-police families of color, how we rely on mothers instead of infrastructure. And how our government, in failing to support our children through this tumultuous time, has stolen years of their lives.
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  • “The better we understand our failures and successes of these past two years — as individuals, as members of our local communities and as a wider society — the more likely we will be to take effective action in the next crisis. Maybe, as a place to start, this book should be required reading for us all.”
    San Francisco Chronicle
  • “[T]horoughly researched, unsparing and intimately detailed… [Kamenetz] also offers thought-provoking, clear-eyed insights into the way systems and people functioned, and did not function, during the pandemic.”
    Washington Post
  • “[A] relentless account of ruptures in so many Americans’ lives, from mental health crises to hunger to academic failures and accidents…Kamenetz’s reach and aim as a reporter are admirable: She travels from San Francisco to Oklahoma to St. Louis to Washington, interviewing a racially and socioeconomically diverse group of parents, as well as dozens of experts, professionals and activists. She elegantly incorporates studies and data. Her prose is tight, smooth and swift.”
    New York Times
  • “[A] sobering, frustrating, often heartbreaking book. It's also an essential read for anyone who lived through that time, and who wants to learn how to avoid a repeat of it in the future.”
  • “Kamenetz eloquently and humanely depicts the panic that reigned in every household, office, court and classroom… Tender and devastating, concise and sentimental, “The Stolen Year” draws upon Kamenetz’s identity as a mom and a journalist to reckon with what happened, what went wrong and how to move on.” 
    Early Learning Nation
  • “We still cannot know the cost of these terrible years on the younger generation, but with The Stolen Year, we can at least begin the reckoning.”
  • “[W]ell-researched, enlightening… An insightful, educative treatise from a seasoned professional.”
  • "Striking an expert balance between the big picture and intimate profiles of students, teachers, parents, and school officials, this is an astute and vital first draft of history."
    Publishers Weekly
  • “Kamenetz leaves no stone unturned in her extensive exploration of the vast problems children faced during the first year of the COVID pandemic… Although this focuses on her expertise in education, Kamenetz deftly navigates the cracks in many pre-pandemic systems, cracks that exploded at the onset in March 2020...Kamenetz’s feat will surely be followed up with additional studies for years to come. For now, it’s a great starting point for the discussion.”
    Library Journal
  • "Anya Kamenetz tells powerful, compelling stories that knit together individual experiences of the pandemic into a larger picture of both loss and hope. The Stolen Year is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of America’s children, and thus the future of the country itself."
    Anne Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
  • "We have sorely needed an accounting of the extensive harm done to children by the coronavirus and by the decisions made in response to it by those in positions of authority in much of the country, which left children no say in the matter. We are fortunate that Kamenetz has stepped up to the task with this powerful, humane, and sadly necessary book."
    Alec MacGillis, author of Fulfillment
  • "Kamenetz’s extraordinary reporting delivers an unflinching, humane, and historically grounded account of the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on American children. The Stolen Year not only bears witness to the true human cost of the pandemic but serves as a call to arms to provide families with what they need and deserve now."
    Lisa Damour, bestselling author of Untangled and Under Pressure
  • "Truly remarkable. A deft, thoughtful, and comprehensive investigation into the toll of the pandemic, and the way America treats its children, from the privileged to the impoverished and everyone in between."
    Jessica Lahey, bestselling author of The Gift of Failure and The Addiction Inoculation
  • “A tough book to read, a well-written and thoroughly researched story that repeatedly leads us to ask why better choices weren’t available, and to wonder if better choices will be available the next time.” 
    Peter Greene, Forbes

On Sale
Aug 23, 2022
Page Count
352 pages

Anya Kamenetz

About the Author

Anya Kamenetz is the lead digital education correspondent for NPR. Previously she worked as a staff writer for Fast Company magazine. She's contributed to the New York Times, Washington Post, New York Magazine, Slate, and O, the Oprah Magazine, and has won multiple awards for her reporting on education, technology, and innovation. She is the author of four books: Generation Debt, DIY U, The Test, and The Art of Screen Time. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

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