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Posted July 30, 2012
Knowing how Beth Kephart agonizes over every word, every phrase
Knowing how Beth Kephart agonizes over every word, every phrase, I started Small Damages with the intention of identifying some of the imagery that I thought particularly descriptive. I soon abandoned that because I became so engrossed in the story. I realized that it’s not one or two phrases that make a wonderful story, it the whole, the continued visualization, the constant perfect phrasing that makes you want to read, non-stop. That’s how I felt with Small Damages.
Eighteen-year-old Kenzie is shipped off to a ranch in rural Spain outside Seville, by an ashamed mother, to live with people she’s never met, in a country she’s never been, to give birth to an unexpected child. The child’s father is taking no responsibilty and Kenzie’s father, who she adored, died of a heart attack several months prior. Small Damages is Kenzie’s story to her unborn child.
I’ll admit, I was dubious about reading a story about a teenager going to Spain to give her child up for adoption. But that was silly. Beth Kephart is the author and “beautifully written, ‘can’t put it down’” stories is her middle name. From the beginning, the reader internalizes Kenzie’s loneliness and feelings of abandonment by those who supposedly love her. This is enhanced by Kephart’s description of the isolation of the ranch, Los Nietos, where Kenzie will live, assisting the cook. You share with her the muddle of emotions about the adotpion, as she starts talking directly to her unborn daughter, describing the sights and sounds around her.
Small Damages’ characters are perfection. The image of brusque, plump Estela, the cook who does not give love easily, but once she does it is with her whole heart and soul, is vivid. The shy teenager, Esteban, who is more comfortable with his birds and horses than with people, is spot on. The Gypsies, to whom life is song, add a unique color to the tapestry of this story. The ancillary characters and plot lines are buttercream icing atop the tasty seven layer cake of Small Damages. If I were ever to set foot in Los Nietos, I would never leave.
The themes–family need not be biological, home is the place where people love you, regrets cannot be undone–are exquisitely illustrated in Small Damages.
Small Damages by Beth Kephart is Printz Award and National Book Award worthy, without a doubt. However, Beth, there is one thing you did leave out of Small Damages…the recipes for some of Estela’s dishes, like that paella for instance (you can smell the aroma from the description in the book)! I read Small Damages in a day because I couldn’t put it down. I’ll read it again, slowly, to savor it.
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