Still Life with Tornado

Reviewed by Melanie on July 12, 2017


This book ended up being a bit of a sleeper. When I first checked it out from Overdrive, I was almost ready to give up on it, then it expired and there was a waiting list. I was finally able to finish it, and man, am I glad that I did.

When the book begins, Sarah seems to be a spoiled brat. She’s throwing a temper tantrum and has quit going to school because one of her art projects was destroyed. I understand her being upset that it was destroyed, but her reaction seemed a bit extreme in the beginning. She’s obsessed with being an artist, and original. Both of these things are difficult for any one, but as a goal for one’s self, is almost impossible not to let yourself down. As the story progressed I began to understand that the sabotage of the art project wasn’t extreme, but rather the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The realization that something so much deeper has occurred doesn’t come until about halfway through the book, then I couldn’t wait to figure out what happened, and why it is just now affecting Sarah. As the events continue to unfold, I fell in love with not only Sarah, but 10 year old Sarah, and 23 year old Sarah, and even 40 year old Sarah. I loved that this element of the book lets the reader know that Sarah is going to be okay, she’s going to make it. One tornado at a time, and the one that hits sixteen year old Sarah is the biggest.

While I don’t want to spoil the story, I found myself impressed with how much I had in common with Sarah, and how like her, I turned a blind eye to what was happening in my childhood home until it was too late. Unlike Sarah, we got out of the situation when I was ten, but it didn’t make things easier. While it may seem a bit difficult to get started, stick with it, once you learn more about Sarah and her family, you may be as surprised as I was.

Still Life With Tornado Book Cover Still Life With Tornado
A.S. King
Young Adult, Magical Realism, Contemporary, Fiction, Sociology, Abuse
Listening Library
October 11, 2016

Sarah can't draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has "done the art." She thinks she's having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she explores the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she's finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can't quite recall. After decades of staying together "for the kids" and building a family on a foundation of lies and violence, Sarah's parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original —and yet it still hurts.

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