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Still Life with Tornado
     

Still Life with Tornado

4.7 3
by A. S. King
 

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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 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

Overview

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.

New York Times 2016 Notable Children's Book
News & Observer Best Book of 2016
Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016 
School Library Journal Best Book of 2016
Booklist Best Book of 2016
Booklist Top of the List 2016
A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2016
BookPage Best Teen Book of 2016
A Bustle Top 30 YA Book of 2016

“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

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Jeff Giles
Still Life With Tornado is a moving, unapologetically strange, skillfully constructed novel about how sometimes the most broken home on the block is the one where the parents are still pretending their marriage works…King's insights about parenting, denial and abuse are so raw and true, grown-ups may want to avert their eyes. But she is a witty, humane writer…Read this book, whatever your age. You may find it's the exact shape and size of the hole in your heart.
Publishers Weekly
★ 07/18/2016
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. (Oct.)
VOYA, December 2016 (Vol. 39, No. 5) - Judith A. Hayn
Sarah is sixteen but meets herself at ages ten, twenty-three, and forty as she begins to completely unravel in this powerful novel. She loses her ability to do art; engages in multiple truancies from school; stalks a homeless man; takes incredible risks with her own safety; and, in desperation, finally contacts her brother, Bruce, who left the family six years ago and disappeared. Sarah internalizes her suffering and depression, which have deep roots inside a dysfunctional family rife with secrets and silence. In this novel, she tells her own story, but Helen—her mother, who is an emergency room nurse—adds vital information in several chapters. As Sarah wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia, she revisits the horror that is her family dynamic, which appears to have reached its peak during a disastrous vacation to Mexico. Bruce disappeared after that trip and never returned, until Sarah asks him to come home to help save her from herself. King’s use of magical realism enables a visceral engagement with Sarah’s emotional turmoil, and it will take a sophisticated reader to decipher the nuances of her disintegration. Add in bullying classmates who are egged on by a cruel, inhumane art teacher, and the tension and unease mount. Readers feel the deepening despair while they enter the disturbing world of dysfunctional families and domestic abuse, along with the destruction they bring. Reviewer: Judith A. Hayn; Ages 12 to 18.
School Library Journal
12/01/2016
Gr 9 Up—When an experience at school shatters Sarah's worldview, she's left adrift. Meeting several versions of herself—Sarah at age 10, at 23, and at 40—the teen grapples with her awareness of her family's underlying dysfunction and eventually learns to tap her own hidden strength. A master of magical realism, King brings together seemingly surreal elements for a layered, profoundly nuanced examination of family and the dynamics of abuse.
Kirkus Reviews
2016-07-20
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)
From the Publisher
“Moving, unapologetically strange, skillfully constructed…. 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 

"Fans of Perks of Being a Wallflower will love this powerful new release from award-winning A.S. King."—Buzzfeed

“Surreal and thought-provoking.”—People Magazine

“You’ll find Still Life’s exploration of an artist’s inner strength particularly enriching.”—Teen Vogue

A 2016 New York Times Notable Children's Book

News & Observer Best Book of 2016

Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016 

School Library Journal Best Book of 2016

Booklist Best Book of 2016

Booklist
 Top of the List 2016

A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2016

A BookPage Best Teen Book of 2016

A Bustle Top 30 YA Book of 2016

A Nerdy Book Club Best YA of 2016

★ "King’s brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. [...] An unforgettable experience."—SLJ, starred review

★ ”A deeply moving, frank, and compassionate exploration of trauma and resilience, filled to the brim with incisive, grounded wisdom.” —Booklist, starred review
 
★ ”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.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ "Lack of original ideas is not something found in work by A.S. King, who blurs reality, truth, violence, emotion, creativity, and art in a show of respect for YA readers."—Horn Book Magazine, starred review

★ "Books about abusive families generally follow the problem-novel script of recognition, admission, and solution; in her inimitable style, King takes a totally different tack, exploring (through interpolated sections from Sarah’s mother as well as Sarah’s narration) the way abuse warps and gnarls a family over time into a thorny growth of anger and denial that becomes a daily norm, even for members who aren’t direct victims.... Readers won’t have to live with abuse firsthand to recognize the taut, invisible coils of family dysfunction and the difficulty of gaining perspective on it, let alone breaking free."—BCCB, starred review

★"King's ingeniously crafted, deeply engaging Still Life with Tornado will have readers by the collar the whole time."—Shelf Awareness, starred review

"King understands and writes teen anxieties like no other, resulting in difficult, resonant, compelling characters and stories."—Kirkus

"A.S. King is known for crafting deeply sympathetic portraits of teenagers in crisis, and Still Life with Tornado is no exception."—BookPage

"A.S. King has always brought her unique touch to her YA novels, but she may have outdone even herself in Still Life with Tornado."—Bustle 

“The payoff is great. King’s surreal elements are balanced as always by the lucidity of her prose, and her generous, unflagging faith in her readers’ ability to keep up with her mental fireworks results yet again in a book that’s truly singular.”—B&N Teen, “Best YA Books of 2016”

"Though touched with magical realism, this is otherwise a wholly contemporary story about a girl who needs to come to terms with her family’s toxic and painful history before she can start dreaming of the future."—Bookish: "Fall 2016’s Unputdownable Contemporary Young Adult Books."

 
Praise for Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (2014)
"Maybe there are writers more adept than King at capturing the outrageous and outraged voice of teenagers, but it’s difficult to think of one.” 
—The New York Times
 
Praise for Reality Boy (2013)
“Timely, incisive, compassionate. All of A.S. King’s novels are must-reads.” —Matthew Quick, New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
 

 

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101994887
Publisher:
Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
10/11/2016
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
36,216
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

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 to the meeting with the principal that was original. Apologizing, crying, yelling, spitting, punching, silence—none of those things are original. I tried to levitate. I tried to self-combust like a defective firework.

Now that would be original.

Meet the Author

A.S. King is the award-winning author of eight acclaimed YA novels. Her novel Please Ignore Vera Dietz earned a 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor and Ask The Passengers won the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The New York Times called her “one of the best YA writers working today.” King lives with her family in Pennsylvania, where she returned after living on a farm and teaching adult literacy in Ireland for more than a decade. www.as-king.com

From the Hardcover edition.

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Still Life with Tornado 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Sandy5 7 months ago
She nailed it! I am just in awe at this novel. A.S. King addresses the issues that open our eyes to what goes on behind closed doors. I couldn’t put this novel down once I started it yesterday and I only stopped because it was getting late and I wanted to enjoy the ending. This novel haunted me as I slept for I dreamt about the characters, their lives and their past. In my dream, I had become part of their family, mixed up inside all their confusion and I just wanted all the voices to quit. She had touched me deep, she had caught me off guard and I have a high regard for an author who can do that. King’s use of magical realism is impressive and unexpected. Each of the characters, I found room for in my heart. It was Helen’s story that was the most powerful, she touched my heart and I get chills now just thinking about her. This was truly an amazing novel, powerful, emotional and one that I won’t forget.
Caroles_Random_Life 11 months ago
This book surprised me. I really didn't know what to think going into it. I grabbed it just because it looked somewhat interesting. I actually try not to read too much about a book before I sit down to read. For much of the book, I had no idea where things were going but I couldn't stop reading. Things shifted in the story at a point and what this book is really about became more clear. In the end, I really enjoyed this story. Sarah is in the middle of a crisis. Nothing seems original to her and she doesn't want to do much of anything. She is about to be expelled from school since she hasn't been going. Nothing original happens there anyway. Past and future Sarahs keep popping into her life but don't always offer a whole lot of help. She spends her days following a homeless man around, walking around abandoned buildings, and trying to be original. I really thought for the first part of the story the book was about mental illness. Sarah seems so depressed and when she started running into other versions of herself, I was sure she was hallucinating. I was wrong. This book is really about something else that starts to be unraveled as Sarah works to piece together her past. The bit of magical realism in the story was surprising but it helped to tell the story in a unique manner. This was a really fast read for me. The way that the story was told was captivating. I knew that there was something going on and I had to keep reading to find out what it was. I liked that a bit of magical realism made its way into the story since it was completely unexpected. Sarah voice was compelling. From the very beginning of the book, I felt for this girl and wanted to find out what brought her to this place in life. I would highly recommend this book to others. I think that it is a book that touches on a difficult topic in a completely new way. This is the first book by A.S. King that I have had a chance to read but I definitely plan to check out more of her work in the future. I received an advance reader edition of this book from Dutton Books for Young Readers via First to Read.
BookWorm221 11 months ago
Nothing can prepare you for an A. S. King book, you might think you know what the books is going to be about, you might have an idea of the content but in reality once you start reading you have to let go of all of that and just let yourself be taken along for the ride. You have to accept things that seem weird or out of place, you have to accept the roads that the characters are taking you through and you have to have an open mind, because in the end even if you’re not quite sure of how you got to the end you do know that you are there and you are beyond satisfied with the story. Still Life With Tornado is a book about a girl who feels like nothing original ever happens, at least to her and as she says she is going through a life crisis and she takes us with her and the more we learn about her and about her life the easier it becomes to realize that things aren’t quite as she sees them. This book was a rollercoaster of emotions for me; I got really involved with the characters, especially with our main character that brought up so many emotions to the surface. The book is beautifully written, the words seem to flow out of the pages, they read like poetry and it was very difficult to put the book down. Another wonderful book by this author that always brings out the most amazing aspects of life to the pages of her books.