Book Title:
Still Life with Tornado
Book Author:
A. S. King
Publishing Date:
October 11th, 2016
Dutton Books for Young Readers
Date Read:
October 9th, 2016
I received an ARC from the publisher - Thank you!


“I am sixteen years old. I am a human being.”

Actually Sarah is several human beings. At once. And only one of them is sixteen. Her parents insist she’s a gifted artist with a bright future, but now she can’t draw a thing, not even her own hand. Meanwhile, there’s a ten-year-old Sarah with a filthy mouth, a bad sunburn, and a clear memory of the family vacation in Mexico that ruined everything. She’s a ray of sunshine compared to twenty-three-year-old Sarah, who has snazzy highlights and a bad attitude. And then there’s forty-year-old Sarah (makes good queso dip, doesn’t wear a bra, really wants sixteen-year-old Sarah to tell the truth about her art teacher). They’re all wandering Philadelphia—along with a homeless artist allegedly named Earl—and they’re all worried about Sarah’s future.

But Sarah’s future isn’t the problem. The present is where she might be having an existential crisis. Or maybe all those other Sarahs are trying to wake her up before she’s lost forever in the tornado of violence and denial that is her parents’ marriage.

“I am a human being. I am sixteen years old. That should be enough.”

My Review

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.

4 stars
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