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Description - Still Life with Tornado by A. S. King

Sixteen-year-old Sarah can't draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has 'done the art.' She thinks she's having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she's finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can't quite recall. After decades of staying together 'for the kids' and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah's parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original - and yet it still hurts. Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, Still Life with Tornado is a vivid portrait of abuse, survival, resurgence that will linger with readers long after the last page.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781925498646
ISBN-10: 1925498646
Format: Paperback
(197mm x 129mm x 28mm)
Pages: 304
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 29-May-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

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Book Reviews - Still Life with Tornado by A. S. King

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Book Review: Still Life with Tornado by A. S. King - Reviewed by (06 May 2017)

5 stars

“Maybe I pretend that my family is normal when I know it’s not normal to have a runaway brother. Maybe my whole life I’ve been living inside of an imaginary painting. I can’t figure out how I feel about this. But I know I feel uncomfortable. All the time”

Still Life with Tornado is the eighth novel by American author, A.S. King. Sixteen-year-old Sarah has always loved art, and she’s good at it. But something happened at school, and now she can’t draw at all. And nothing ever happens there anyway, everything is always the same, nothing new or original, so she begins to skip classes. It eventually becomes apparent than an act of theft and wilful vandalism has set in motion an existential crisis.

As a truant Sarah wanders the streets of Philadelphia, she encounters other versions of herself: aged ten, then aged twenty-three and later, forty. Conversations with her other selves lead her to recall the events of the family’s Mexican vacation six years earlier, the vacation that triggered her brother Bruce’s disappearance. Sarah benefits from the clear, innocent perspective of her 10 year old self, the cynicism of her 23 year old self and the wisdom of her 40 year old self.

King employs three distinct narratives: sixteen year old Sarah relates present-day events, while ten year old Sarah’s account of the Mexican vacation slowly reveals the cause of Bruce’s exile. Helen’s view of her marriage to Chet completes the picture of a family destined for crisis. There’s a bit of magical reality going on (the four Sarahs) but it’s deftly done and not so weird as to be completely bizarre. Watching her ten year old self in the gallery: “I see her looking around for the security guard. I remember being her and thinking ‘just one touch’ as if touching the same thing Picasso touched would give her the talent to become him”.

What at first seems to be a book about teen angst goes much deeper: psychological abuse, domestic violence, sexual predators, bullying, homelessness, friendship and loyalty also feature. King skilfully builds her tale, gradually revealing the true situation as her protagonist’s appreciation of the facts develops. Eventually Sarah sees how it really is between her parents: “’Good,’ they say in unison. And then they look annoyed that they said something in unison. Then they fake smile at each other, but I’m starting to understand that smiling is really just another way of baring one’s teeth”.

This is a novel that is original and different: it’s clever and thought-provoking, and is bound to have wider appeal than the Young Adult genre in which it sits. Recommended.


Author Biography - A. S. King

A.S. King is the award-winning author of eight acclaimed YA novels. Her novel Please Ignore Vera Dietz earned a 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor and Ask The Passengers won the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The New York Times called her 'one of the best YA writers working today.' King lives with her family in Pennsylvania, where she returned after living on a farm and teaching adult literacy in Ireland for more than a decade.

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