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Still Life with Tornado Hardcover – October 11, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—At 16, Sarah is facing what she calls an "existential crisis," questioning whether her life has meaning or value, an event fueled by an unfair art show, a cruel teacher, a toxic and abusive family, a missing brother, and the loss of her ability to draw. Sarah wanders through the streets of Philadelphia and meets her future self at age 23 and 40 as well as her 10-year-old self. With the help of these past and future selves, she uncovers hidden memories of the vacation leading up to her brother leaving and the lies and violence that have driven her family dynamics for years. This beautifully written, often surreal narrative will make readers wonder if Sarah is schizophrenic, if she has post-traumatic stress disorder, or if she just needs to take a break from the realities of her life. Two weeks before Sarah's crisis, her friend Carmen drew a tornado and told Sarah that it was not a sketch of a tornado but of everything the tornado contained. This drawing becomes an analogy for all that Sarah is hiding in the emotional tornado of her life, the secrets she has hidden from herself and the world. King's brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. Sarah's strength, fragility, and ability to survive resonate throughout. VERDICT This is a complex book that will not appeal to all readers, but for others it will be an unforgettable experience.—Janet Hilbun, University of North Texas, Denton
“Moving, unapologetically strange, skillfully constructed…. Read this book, whatever your age. You may find it’s the exact shape and size of the hole in your heart.”—The New York Times
"Fans of Perks of Being a Wallflower will love this powerful new release from award-winning A.S. King."—Buzzfeed
“Surreal and thought-provoking.”—People Magazine
“You’ll find Still Life’s exploration of an artist’s inner strength particularly enriching.”—Teen Vogue
A 2016 New York Times Notable Children's Book
A News & Observer Best Book of 2016
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2016
A Booklist Best Book of 2016
Booklist Top of the List 2016
A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2016
A BookPage Best Teen Book of 2016
A Bustle Top 30 YA Book of 2016
A Nerdy Book Club Best YA of 2016
★ "King’s brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. [...] An unforgettable experience."—SLJ, starred review
★ ”A deeply moving, frank, and compassionate exploration of trauma and resilience, filled to the brim with incisive, grounded wisdom.” —Booklist, starred review
★ ”The presentation of the surreal as real, the deeply thoughtful questions she poses, the way she empowers her teenage characters to change the trajectory of their lives—King writes with the confidence of a tightrope walker working without a net.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
★ "Lack of original ideas is not something found in work by A.S. King, who blurs reality, truth, violence, emotion, creativity, and art in a show of respect for YA readers."—Horn Book Magazine, starred review
★ "Books about abusive families generally follow the problem-novel script of recognition, admission, and solution; in her inimitable style, King takes a totally different tack, exploring (through interpolated sections from Sarah’s mother as well as Sarah’s narration) the way abuse warps and gnarls a family over time into a thorny growth of anger and denial that becomes a daily norm, even for members who aren’t direct victims.... Readers won’t have to live with abuse firsthand to recognize the taut, invisible coils of family dysfunction and the difficulty of gaining perspective on it, let alone breaking free."—BCCB, starred review
★"King's ingeniously crafted, deeply engaging Still Life with Tornado will have readers by the collar the whole time."—Shelf Awareness, starred review
"King understands and writes teen anxieties like no other, resulting in difficult, resonant, compelling characters and stories."—Kirkus
"A.S. King is known for crafting deeply sympathetic portraits of teenagers in crisis, and Still Life with Tornado is no exception."—BookPage
"A.S. King has always brought her unique touch to her YA novels, but she may have outdone even herself in Still Life with Tornado."—Bustle
“The payoff is great. King’s surreal elements are balanced as always by the lucidity of her prose, and her generous, unflagging faith in her readers’ ability to keep up with her mental fireworks results yet again in a book that’s truly singular.”—B&N Teen, “Best YA Books of 2016”
"Though touched with magical realism, this is otherwise a wholly contemporary story about a girl who needs to come to terms with her family’s toxic and painful history before she can start dreaming of the future."—Bookish: "Fall 2016’s Unputdownable Contemporary Young Adult Books."
Praise for Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (2014)
"Maybe there are writers more adept than King at capturing the outrageous and outraged voice of teenagers, but it’s difficult to think of one.” —The New York Times
Praise for Reality Boy (2013)
“Timely, incisive, compassionate. All of A.S. King’s novels are must-reads.” —Matthew Quick, New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
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Top Customer Reviews
A.S. King had me glued to the pages from beginning to end. I was captivated by the story, which is absolutely heartbreaking. King touches on a very tough subject, but chose to tell this story in a unique way that draws you in as you continue to read. I also think that it is interesting that King chose to have Sarah aware but also unaware of her home situation, so that all of the puzzle pieces fit together when she gets the full picture later on. I think that this is relatable, especially for anyone who has been through something that they knew was bad, but couldn't put their finger on why or what exactly was going on for various reasons.
I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not. I wish I had been a “not.”
Before I start this review, I want to point out that it does deal with emotional and physical abuse, so since this could be a trigger warning for some, I wanted to mention it. It has the potential to be a bit disturbing, especially if abuse by the hand of a parent is something that you've dealt with.
"Nothing ever really happens. Or, more accurately, nothing new every really happens."
This is how Sarah feels about her life. She's tired of school, because nothing ever really happens. So she stops going. She spends her days walking around downtown, following a homeless man, visiting an abandoned school where she pretends she has decided to start attending classes, and talking to other versions of herself at different ages. There's 23 year old Sarah, 40 year old Sarah, and 10 year old Sarah. At first, Sarah thinks she's crazy - I mean, after all, you can't really talk to yourself from other time periods, can you? But as she continues to spend time with these other versions, she begins to learn more about herself and her past, and dig up some haunting memories that she needs in order to move on.
As Sarah battles with the reason she stopped going to school, her brother leaving the family behind, her angry, distant father, and memories that she needs to deal with before she can go any further in life, she tries to make the best of the now that's laid out in front of her.
Sarah misses her escape from it all, her ability to create something new out of a world that just keeps giving her the same thing. She misses art, which she hasn't created since she left school. She misses the way her family used to be. She wants something new. She wants something original.
"Here's why I like making things. I like making thins because when I was born, everything I was born into was already made for me. Art let me surround myself with something different. Something new. Something real. Something that was mine."
While at first Sarah thinks she is crazy to be able to see and interact with other versions of herself, soon she realizes that her mother can see these versions of her, as well, and together they are forced to deal with a family issue that has caused everything to fall apart over the years.
Still Life with Tornado delivers a strong message about family and not losing sight of who you are. It speaks out about abuse, and how it can damage not just one person, but an entire family. It is an incredibly powerful read that will force you to examine your own past.
While the majority of this book is told from the teenage Sarah's point of view, her mother does have several chapters where she talks about her relationship with Sarah's dad and how hard she has to work to keep her head up. It's heartbreaking, because the kind of things that Sarah's mom goes through happen everyday, and they aren't talked about. These chapters provide insight into what abuse can look like, and it's downright terrifying and heartbreaking.
There are also chapters about a vacation that the family took when Sarah was ten years old, and little by little we learn about what happened on that vacation and how it tore apart the family. These segments were hard to read, but essential to the main story.
While I can't say I really connected with Sarah's character as much I would have liked, her despondent, almost detached personality that I made it hard for me to read in the beginning is because of the events that she has dealt with over the years, so once I finished the book and reflected upon it, I found myself having more of an emotional connection with her after all.
I can't understand why Sarah's parents just let her stop going to school, though. I mean, sure they encouraged her to go, and even told her she had to, but no one actually took her to school and tried to make her go. She just stopped going, and it was like her parents just shrugged and let her do as she pleased. Then again, this happens everyday, so it shouldn't be too shocking, I guess.
I have been trying to write this review for ages, but truthfully, this is one of those books that just made it difficult to gather my thoughts on. It was good, but at the same time I spent some time being kind of bored with it, and found myself wishing that I could skip to the better parts. But the overall message of the book is what caused me to give it a 4 star rating. I can't see missing out on this one, because it is a book that makes you think. It isn't a mindless story that you will forget shortly after reading; it is a novel that causes you to examine everything you've known about where you come from and how you got there.
Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I tried liking this book. But I felt more manic the more I read it. Sarah has some family problems and some personal problems.Read more