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Still Life with Tornado
Cover of Still Life with Tornado
Still Life with Tornado
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A heartbreaking and mindbending story of a talented teenage artist's awakening to the brokenness of her family from critically acclaimed award-winner A.S. King.Sixteen-year-old Sarah can't draw. This...
A heartbreaking and mindbending story of a talented teenage artist's awakening to the brokenness of her family from critically acclaimed award-winner A.S. King.Sixteen-year-old Sarah can't draw. This...
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Description-

  • A heartbreaking and mindbending story of a talented teenage artist's awakening to the brokenness of her family from critically acclaimed award-winner A.S. King.

    Sixteen-year-old 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 wanders 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 domestic 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.

    Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this is a vivid portrait of abuse, survival, resurgence that will linger with readers long after the last page.
    "Read this book, whatever your age. You may find it's the exact shape and size of the hole in your heart."—The New York Times

    "Surreal and thought-provoking."—People Magazine
    ★ "A deeply moving, frank, and compassionate exploration of trauma and resilience, filled to the brim with incisive, grounded wisdom." —Booklist, starred review

    ★ "King writes with the confidence of a tightrope walker working without a net."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
    ★"[King] blurs reality, truth, violence, emotion, creativity, and art in a show of respect for YA readers."—Horn Book Magazine, starred review
    ★ "King's brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. [...] An unforgettable experience." SLJ, starred review

Excerpts-

  • From the book The Tornado

    Nothing ever really happens.
    Or, more accurately, nothing new ever really happens.


    My art teacher, Miss Smith, once said that there is no such thing as an original idea. We all think we're having original ideas, but we aren't. "You're stuck on repeat. I'm stuck on repeat. We're all stuck on repeat." That's what she said. Then she flipped her hair back over her shoulder like what she said didn't mean anything and told us to spend the rest of class sorting through all the old broken shit she gets people to donate so we can make art. She held up half of a vinyl record. "Every single thing we think is original is like this. Just pieces of something else."

    Two weeks ago Carmen said she had an original idea, and then she drew a tornado, but tornadoes aren't original. Tornadoes are so old that the sky made them before we were even here. Carmen said that the sketch was not of a tornado, but everything it contained. All I saw was flying, churning dust. She said there was a car in there. She said a family pet was in there. A wagon wheel. Broken pieces of a house. A quart of milk. Photo albums. A box of stale corn flakes.

    All I could see was the funnel and that's all anyone else could see and Carmen said that we weren't looking hard enough. She said art wasn't supposed to be literal. But that doesn't erase the fact that the drawing was of a tornado and that's it.

    Our next assignment was to sketch a still life. Miss Smith put out three bowls of fruit and told us we could arrange the fruit in any way we wanted. I picked one pear and I stared at it and stared at my drawing pad and I didn't sketch anything.

    I acted calm, like I was just daydreaming, but I was paralyzed. Carmen looked at me and I shrugged like I didn't care. I couldn't move my hand. I felt numb. I felt like crying. I felt both of those things. Not always in art class, either.

    When I handed in a blank paper at the end of class, I said, "I've lost the will to participate."

    Miss Smith thought I meant art class. But I meant that I'd lost the will to participate in anything. I wanted to be the paper. I wanted to be whiter than white. Blanker than blank.

    The next day Miss Smith said that I should do blind drawings of my hand. Blind drawings are when you draw something without looking at the paper. I drew twelve of them. But then I wondered how many people have done blind drawings of their hands and I figured it must be the most unoriginal thing in the world.

    She said, "But it's your hand. No one else can draw that."

    I told her that nothing ever really happens.

    "Nothing ever really happens," I said.

    She said, "That's probably true." She didn't even look up from the papers she was shuffling. Her bared shoulders were already tan and it wasn't even halfway through April. I stood there staring at her shoulders, thinking about how nothing ever really happens. Lots of stuff has happened to Miss Smith. I knew that.

    My hands shook because I couldn't draw the pear. She looked up and I know she saw me shaking. She could have said anything to me then. Something nice. Something encouraging. Instead, she repeated herself.

    She said, "That's probably true."

    So I stopped going to school.


    It's true about the letters they'll send when you stop going to school. After a week or so they come after you and make you meet with the principal. But that's happened before, just like tornadoes, so it didn't impress me. My parents escorted me into the school building and they apologized a hundred times for my behavior but I didn't apologize even once.

    I couldn't think of one reaction...

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 18, 2016
    Many factors contribute to 16-year-old Sarah’s decision, during her sophomore year, to drop out of life and spend her days wandering the streets of Philadelphia, stalking a homeless artist, encountering past and future versions of herself, and avoiding what she does best: making art. Someone sabotaged Sarah’s project for her school’s annual art show, her art club friends ostracized her when she determined to find out who was behind it, and her parents’ broken marriage is increasingly toxic. Conversations with her 10-year-old self force Sarah to question the story she’s been told about why the family no longer communicates with her older brother, Bruce. One of the things that sets Sarah’s existential crisis in motion is her art teacher’s comment that there is no such thing as an original idea; clearly, Miss Smith has never read one of King’s novels. The presentation of the surreal as real, the deeply thoughtful questions she poses, the way she empowers her teenage characters to change the trajectory of their lives—King writes with the confidence of a tightrope walker working without a net. Ages 14–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

  • Kirkus

    King, master of troubled protagonists and surreal plots, is at it again. Sarah, 16 and white, has had a breakdown after a series of events she won't immediately reveal: there was whatever she saw with Vicky and Miss Smith, and whatever happened at the art show, and perhaps most importantly, there are the things she has been living with but refusing to know for her entire life, especially since the trip to Mexico six years ago. Sarah quits school, instead searching for meaning by following a homeless artist and befriending 10-year-old Sarah, another version of Sarah who has not yet forgotten what happened in Mexico or why their beloved brother has never visited since. Complex, unreliable narration (by 16-year-old Sarah, with interstitial passages narrated by her mother) brings to life what it means to live in a home where abuse is always threatened but never quite delivered, gradually revealing both the immediate triggers for the "existential crisis" and the underlying trauma. Sarah's fractured selves (23-year-old and 40-year-old Sarah also make appearances) are both metaphor and magic realism; Sarah has fractured herself when the art that has been her solace becomes another point of tension and uncertainty, but these are not hallucinations. King understands and writes teen anxieties like no other, resulting in difficult, resonant, compelling characters and stories. (Fiction. 14 & up) COPYRIGHT(1) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from September 1, 2016

    Gr 9 Up-At 16, Sarah is facing what she calls an "existential crisis," questioning whether her life has meaning or value, an event fueled by an unfair art show, a cruel teacher, a toxic and abusive family, a missing brother, and the loss of her ability to draw. Sarah wanders through the streets of Philadelphia and meets her future self at age 23 and 40 as well as her 10-year-old self. With the help of these past and future selves, she uncovers hidden memories of the vacation leading up to her brother leaving and the lies and violence that have driven her family dynamics for years. This beautifully written, often surreal narrative will make readers wonder if Sarah is schizophrenic, if she has post-traumatic stress disorder, or if she just needs to take a break from the realities of her life. Two weeks before Sarah's crisis, her friend Carmen drew a tornado and told Sarah that it was not a sketch of a tornado but of everything the tornado contained. This drawing becomes an analogy for all that Sarah is hiding in the emotional tornado of her life, the secrets she has hidden from herself and the world. King's brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. Sarah's strength, fragility, and ability to survive resonate throughout. VERDICT This is a complex book that will not appeal to all readers, but for others it will be an unforgettable experience.-Janet Hilbun, University of North Texas, Denton

    Copyright 2016 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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