21 October 2016

Review #541: Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“There are far too many silent sufferers. Not because they don't yearn to reach out, but because they've tried and found no one who cares.”

----Richelle E. Goodrich

A.S. King, an award winning and bestselling American author, pens a heart wrenching tale of abuse, magical realism, teenage existential crisis in her new YA novel, Still Life with Tornado where the central characters of 16 years of age is a victim of existential crisis who has lost the creativity and power to imagination to create new art, all the while internally suffering for the bruises that she got six years ago on a trip to Mexico and also the virulent life that is closing in on her her, thereby choking her to a mental paranoia. Running away seems the only answer, but will all her questions be answered?


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.”

Sarah, the 16 year old one, is running. She is not running from herself, she is running away from the virulent relationship between her mother and father between whom she is trapped into. Sarah faces problem with her creativity as she fails to create any original with her talent, instead she follows a homeless painter, Earl to a wild road trip, only to find conclusion to her own future, past and present. But the problem lies deep within her mind and her soul, where there are three more Sarahs (a 10 year old, a 23-year old and a 40 year old) who are trying to let Sarah quench her thirst for the lingering questions for so long and to find solutions to the existing problems of her life.

So many diverse characters lying deep within the boundary of one central character, each being a stranger to one another. From the synopsis itself, the book enchanted me with the idea of multiple characters embodied within one, but once I trod my way into the story, I was taken aback with the surprise that was waiting for me in the folds of this story, that is, mind it, not only purely dark and raw, but also extremely real and painful to grasp it into our emotional systems.

The author's writing style is extraordinary, very strong and complete with layers that are revealed one after another in a gradual flow. The narrative is highly engaging right from the very beginning and holds the power to questions it own retrospective voice, all the while keeping the readers glued into its deepest core. The emotions run deep, raw and wild without any limitation and holds the power to drown the readers with its intensity. The pacing of the story is bit moderate as the story unravels through tons of layers that only gives depth and insight into the characters' lives.

The characters are extremely well developed with enough realism reflecting through their demeanor. The central character, who is a 16 year old girl, has been voiced strikingly through the storm that is raging on in her mind and soul, and also through the distinction among the three other characters lurking deep within herself who are diverse in their manners and behavior. But what actually makes Sarah an exceptional character is not her emotional or mental turmoil, but the way she handles her life after meeting Earl, how she fights to bring balance in her life is brilliantly portrayed. Sarah is psychologically flawed, yet her flaws and darkness will keep that grip into the readers' minds all throughout the story line. The other characters, especially the mother, father, lost brother and Earl, all play a major role to the story which the author have smartly captivated through Sarah's tale.

If you think even for once that this book is about abuse, then you're wrong, marriage and messed up relationships play a huge part in this story, while the backdrop being of teenage abuse and mental trauma. Although in this story, the author draws a fine line that runs closely together between imagination and reality so the readers might get lost into a seedy world of realism and imagination.

In a nutshell, this story is unique, heart breaking, enlightening and alluring enough to make the readers feel for the story as well as for the characters and I bet there are many teenager readers, who are either facing the same trouble like Sarah or have faced them in the past, will relate to this story strongly.

Verdict: A must read not for the story but for a teenage fractured protagonist.

Courtesy: Thanks to the publishers for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book.

Author Info:
A.S. King is the author of the highly-acclaimed I CRAWL THROUGH IT, Walden Award winner GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE, REALITY BOY, 2013 LA Times Book Prize winner ASK THE PASSENGERS, 2012 ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, and 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ and THE DUST OF 100 DOGS as well as a collection of award-winning short stories for adults, MONICA NEVER SHUTS UP.
Look for Amy's work in anthologies DEAR BULLY, BREAK THESE RULES, ONE DEATH NINE STORIES, and LOSING IT. Two more YA novels to come in 2016 & 2018.
Visit her here

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