Review of Still Life with Tornado

king_still-life-with-tornadostar2 Still Life with Tornado
by A.S. King
High School    Dutton    296 pp.
10/16    978-1-101-99488-7    $17.99    g

“There is no such thing as an original idea,” sixteen-year-old Sarah’s teacher tells the class, a dictum that sticks with the once-promising art student. Sarah had an original idea, and she executed it beautifully, but Something Happened at school that sent Sarah reeling. She stopped going to high school (not an original idea, she acknowledges) and instead spends her days roaming around Philadelphia, contemplating changing her name to Umbrella, and following a “homeless artist man…[who] makes headpieces out of tinfoil.” Things get weird when she encounters her own self at age twenty-three at a city bus stop, and later at age ten. Ten-year-old Sarah has a message to relay, something she’s trying to get today’s Sarah to remember, something about the family trip to Mexico that is fresh in child-Sarah’s mind. We already know that Sarah’s family is in crisis. Her older brother, Bruce, is long estranged, and her parents’ marriage has been on the rocks for years. Interspersed with Sarah’s unfiltered first-person narration are chapters by Sarah’s ER-nurse mom, Helen (in which we learn, for example, that her song for her husband is “You’re a Dumb Prick and I Hate You”), and flashback chapters set in Mexico in which events are slowly revealed. We also learn, in nonlinear fashion, about what happened to Sarah at school, and why her teacher’s “no original ideas” psych-out was even more insidious than it seemed. Lack of original ideas is not something found in work by A.S. King (Everybody Sees the Ants, rev. 1/12; Ask the Passengers, rev. 1/13; I Crawl Through It, rev. 9/15), who blurs reality, truth, violence, emotion, creativity, and art in a show of respect for YA readers.

From the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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