Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King
At sixteen, Sarah has lost her ability to create artwork. Her best friend Carmen is drawing tornadoes. She tells Sarah that it is not a picture of the tornado itself, but of everything it scoops up and carries inside. This metaphor for Sarah’s life allows us to see the chaos more clearly. Sarah’s older brother has moved away and is no longer speaking to anyone in the family. She would like to reach out to him, but cannot. She refuses to go to school, and wanders the streets of Philadelphia, meets a homeless man, goes to an abandoned school- and then meets her ten-year-old self, her twenty-three-year-old self, and her forty-year-old self.
This is more than a little confusing for the reader. Is Sarah crazy?
Certainly she thinks she is. Does she need a psychologist? Should we just quit reading and toss the book as silly? All of the Sarahs have information that Sarah needs to move on with her life. Especially ten-year-old Sarah, who helps Sarah remember what happened before her brother left. Then her mother also meets and talks to ten-year-old Sarah while Sarah is present.
Somehow it just works: all the Sarahs become magic that everyone simply accepts. The plot device has been used before, and we accept it too, though. We know Sarah has been lying to herself and want to see her pull through. Sarah is a complex character, as is her mother, when King allows her into the plot. If you can’t accept the magic, you probably won’t like the book. For the rest of us, the story IS the tornado, and the characters worth the read. This is a book that will make you think.
Recommended 13 up