by A.S. King
Genres: Magical Realism, Young Adult
Publication Date: October 11th 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
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Source: Publisher via Netgalley
A heartbreaking story of a talented teenage artist's surreal awakening to the horrifically unoriginal brokenness of her family from critically acclaimed award-winner A.S. King.
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 explores 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 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, this is a vivid portrait of everyday abuse and survival that will linger with readers long after the last page.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
*Trigger warning for physical abuse*
When I started reading, I wanted to stop reading this book. I couldn’t really connect to the main character. I know a lot of people love this book so I pushed forward. I have to say, I was in for a surprise.
Sarah is sixteen years old and she’s going through what she calls “existential crisis”. After making the decision of dropping out of school due to an incident, Sarah starts to be an observer in life. Her parents don’t speak to each other, and if they do, it’s to fight. She hasn’t seen/heard from her brother in six years. She follows around a homeless guy because she thinks he’s an original idea. And Sarah herself is searching for an original idea. That’s when she meets 10-year-old Sarah, 23-year-old Sarah, and later on 40-year-old Sarah. The thing is, Sarah’s family went on vacation when she was 10-years-old. Sarah has suppressed feelings of that vacation and therefore, doesn’t remember what happened. This is when 10-year-old Sarah helps her navigate through those feelings and finally know why her brother left right after that vacation.
Art let me surround myself with something different. Something new. Something real. Something that was mine.
I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, but it wasn’t what I got. I actually got more than what I thought I would. As I said before, I couldn’t connect to Sarah. The way she would be in the beginning was a little bit annoying for me. As I kept reading, her story spoke to me and I ended up seeing myself in her. Despite the magical realism, I loved how real the story felt.
The magical realism was a surprise for me, but I ended up loving it. I’m not a fan of Magical Realism at all, but A.S. King sold it to me with her writing. While reading, I thought 10, 23, and 40-year-old Sarah would help present 16-year-old Sarah figure out her life and her “crisis”. I loved that King took a spin here and these characters played a deeper role in the story of Sarah’s mom and brother.
This story is told from Sarah’s point of view as well as her mom, Helen’s point of view. Helen’s point of view added a lot of insight into Sarah’s life as well as her own. I thought this was a very nice touch since I haven’t really read books with a mom’s point of view. I felt for Helen on such a deep level. She’s such a strong mom and I admired her throughout the entire novel. View Spoiler »She was a victim of physical abuse from her husband, Sarah’s father. « Hide Spoiler
I think when you’ve been abused by someone for a while, it’s like being in a cult. The longer you stay, the more brainwashed you get.
Overall, Still Life with Tornado is a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and sensitive novel that will move its readers. King combined a lyrical and simplistic prose to bring a moving, eye-opening story on abuse.
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