Still Life with Tornado

Still Life with Tornado

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 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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101994887
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/11/2016
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 591,400
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About 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.

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.

Customer Reviews

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Still Life with Tornado 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
“Maybe I pretend that my family is normal when I know it’s not normal to have a runaway brother. Maybe my whole life I’ve been living inside of an imaginary painting. I can’t figure out how I feel about this. But I know I feel uncomfortable. All the time” Still Life with Tornado is the eighth novel by American author, A.S. King. Sixteen-year-old Sarah has always loved art, and she’s good at it. But something happened at school, and now she can’t draw at all. And nothing ever happens there anyway, everything is always the same, nothing new or original, so she begins to skip classes. It eventually becomes apparent than an act of theft and wilful vandalism has set in motion an existential crisis. As a truant Sarah wanders the streets of Philadelphia, she encounters other versions of herself: aged ten, then aged twenty-three and later, forty. Conversations with her other selves lead her to recall the events of the family’s Mexican vacation six years earlier, the vacation that triggered her brother Bruce’s disappearance. Sarah benefits from the clear, innocent perspective of her 10 year old self, the cynicism of her 23 year old self and the wisdom of her 40 year old self. King employs three distinct narratives: sixteen year old Sarah relates present-day events, while ten year old Sarah’s account of the Mexican vacation slowly reveals the cause of Bruce’s exile. Helen’s view of her marriage to Chet completes the picture of a family destined for crisis. There’s a bit of magical reality going on (the four Sarahs) but it’s deftly done and not so weird as to be completely bizarre. Watching her ten year old self in the gallery: “I see her looking around for the security guard. I remember being her and thinking ‘just one touch’ as if touching the same thing Picasso touched would give her the talent to become him”. What at first seems to be a book about teen angst goes much deeper: psychological abuse, domestic violence, sexual predators, bullying, homelessness, friendship and loyalty also feature. King skilfully builds her tale, gradually revealing the true situation as her protagonist’s appreciation of the facts develops. Eventually Sarah sees how it really is between her parents: “’Good,’ they say in unison. And then they look annoyed that they said something in unison. Then they fake smile at each other, but I’m starting to understand that smiling is really just another way of baring one’s teeth”. This is a novel that is original and different: it’s clever and thought-provoking, and is bound to have wider appeal than the Young Adult genre in which it sits. Recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The headline says it all.
Samantha05 More than 1 year ago
Mini-review: -Unique premise that nails the different ages -Emotional, will probably cry -Discusses the day-to-day storms people weather
Sandy5 More than 1 year 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 More than 1 year 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 More than 1 year 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.