Recent Reading: Still Life With Tornado by AS King

Okay, so, a contemporary YA problem novel. Not ordinarily my thing. But every now and then, I guess it is my thing. Like Marchetta’s contemporary YAs, starting with Saving Francesca. I liked those a lot, much better than her fantasy series.

I really liked Still Life With Tornado too. It’s completely different from Marchetta’s books. Also, it’s not quite a straight contemporary. I was drawn to this one because of the suggestion that Sarah, the protagonist, runs into other Sarahs during the course of the book – past and future selves – and I thought that sounded cool. And so it proved.

Spoiler: the past and future selves are realer than one might expect in a typical contemporary. I see why King commented that she writes “weird” books, because it *is* weird. The real Sarah – the most-real Sarah – is sixteen. She is clearly having a kind of breakdown during the course of the book. But when ten-year-old Sarah shows up, everyone can see her and interact with her. The past and future Sarahs are way more real than makes sense in a true contemporary. Yet this story doesn’t read like a fantasy, either.

It’s very well written, whatever it is.

I look out to the street and the cars that go by and the people walking with their groceries or their kids and I see the world’s horizon line separating foreground from background.

Ten-year-old Sarah is in the background. All my future Sarahs are behind me as I view the scene. They aren’t in the picture yet.

I am the horizon line.

Nice, eh? This is a beautifully written story. I think maybe I’ll have to seek out some more of AS King’s work.

All right, so. The interaction among the Sarahs is important to the story. Also their interaction with everyone else. When ten-year-old Sarah comes over for dinner, she’s a six-years-younger version of Sarah. Imagine how strange that would be! And her father doesn’t recognize her. That right there gives you the fundamental shape of the problem this story addresses.

So Sarah’s family life is not precisely ideal and never has been. But she doesn’t really remember some of the most important events that have shaped her current life – but ten-year-old Sarah does. And forty-year-old Sarah makes it clear, without saying so directly, that things must come out all right in the end.

This story is about living a lie; it’s about living in a family where everyone is and always has been living a lie; it’s about figuring this out and reshaping your life into something more honest. The journey takes us back and forth through time and sort of back and forth though reality and perhaps even sanity. It’s not particularly difficult to read, though, so no need to shy away from it if you’re wary of picking up a really intense book. From the fact that I liked it quite a bit, you can assume that everyone who deserves to winds up in a better situation at the end.

For me . . . I guess I’d say four stars because although I did truly like this book, it is also truly not my favorite type of story. The journey through a breakdown will never appeal to me as much as a quest to save the world. Minuses, for me: I never really could wrap my mind around the mother getting herself stuck in this situation. And I don’t honestly think I truly believed in the father, either.

In terms of actual quality, I’d have to say, probably five stars. Pluses: the sheer quality of the writing. The relationship between the ten-year-old Sarah and the sixteen-year-old Sarah. Also the relationship between Sarah and her brother – the “voicemail conversation” was delightful and clever and very believable.

If you are into fantasy AND contemporary YAs, you should definitely try this. If you are into one or the other, you may well enjoy it. If you’ve already read it, let me know what you thought!

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3 thoughts on “Recent Reading: <em>Still Life With Tornado</em> by AS King”

  1. The Teen loves stories that involve intelligent use of time. I’m forwarding this to her.

    And Merry Christmas to all here.

  2. I haven’t read this one yet, but I highly recommend her similarly not quite a straight contemporary YA, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (and Elaine, it also does neat things with time, as you might guess from the title).

    If you go earlier in her back-catalog, her books become more traditional YA. Still well written, but without these fantastical twists to them.

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