Initial reaction: Probably one of the most original and engaging stories I’ve read of its measure. Sarah’s story and different personalities really held my attention throughout the read.
It’s on an ironic note that while that the protagonist of this book (Sarah) was worried about being “original”, “Still Life with Tornado” is truly one of the most original reads I’ve seen in the YA spectrum to date. I honestly have never read a story quite like this – blending a bit of speculative fiction/magical realism with a rather heavy coming of age tale.
Sarah is a 16-year old with a difficult life that steadily takes turns for the worst. It’s bad enough that she stops going to high school and wants to drop out prematurely (for reasons that are unknown to the reader at first), but she’s also lost what was once her primary love: art. Her home life is fragmented – her parents constantly fighting and she hasn’t been in contact with her older brother in years after a vacation that went horribly wrong almost from the very beginning. She’s not sure what she should do and where she should go in the present day, only searches for things that she thinks are “original” or stand out in ways that her current life can’t provide. Her “existential crisis” takes an unexpected turn as she suddenly encounters other versions of…herself. In public. Where other people can see and interact with them as well.
Sarah’s forced to confront some very stark truths in her past and present while meeting her 10-year old, 23-year old, and 40 year old selves. Some of these encounters bring lightly humored situations – I really enjoyed getting to know the unique personalities each “Sarah” has and ultimately how they get 16-year old Sarah to react. Other moments with their interactions showcase more painful moments in Sarah’s life, ultimately culminating where she’s called to face the truth and stand up to challenges in ways she didn’t think she could before. Sarah’s POV is supplemented with her mother’s to provide context in past events that lead up to the current state of their home life, even in events that Sarah herself was too young to witness or absent for the observation into what lead up to the present day. I applaud A.S. King for providing such an intimate portrait of a young woman who has to come to terms with the abusive relationships around her – not just at home but at school as well.
It’s hard not to be invested in this story for the slow burn and reveals it provides – taking an eye to each of the primary characters and exploring levels of depth through their interactions and observations. I felt that 16-year old Sarah’s voice resonated with me because she feels like a real teenager struggling through several emotional upheavals, but yet is in this unique scenario where she’s allowed to confront those events.
I really enjoyed this novel, not just through the characters and plot, but the strength of King’s writing. Definitely a book I’m glad to have in my personal library and one I’d definitely read again and recommend.
Overall score: 4.5/5 stars.