Review: Still Life with Tornado by A. S. King

Still Life with Tornado book coverKing loves to work with weird ideas, and this book is no exception. At the beginning of the book, all we know about Sarah is that something happened at school that has her unwilling to go anymore. She was a talented artist but whatever happened seemed to suck her ability to draw right out of her fingers. She wanders Philadelphia by bus and ponders how literally nothing is original. Nothing she does, nothing anybody else does, nothing. She’s depressed and having an existential crisis.

But the thing is, the book isn’t just about Sarah. She narrates most of it first person, present tense. But there are also sections she narrates in the past tense about a family vacation to Mexico six years earlier, the last time she saw her nine-years-older brother. And then there are short scenes narrated by Sarah’s mom, which give us insight into the problem of Sarah’s family. Because that’s what the book is really about. It actually digs in pretty deep into the subject of physical abuse in a unique way.

But even more, the book’s about being a teenager. Sarah desperately wants to just be a human being, but she has to deal with the labels that society attaches to everyone. We learn a little slowly that her friends—or someone—did something to her. And King sums up what it’s like to be a teen with something to say:

But now it’s been so long that if I bring it up, I’ll look like a girl who can’t let go of things. Teenage girls always have to let go of things. If we bring up anything, people say we’re bitches who can’t just drop it.

That quote is just so perfect.

At this point, you may be wondering what’s so weird about the book. Sarah starts seeing other Sarahs. Actual, physical manifestations of herself at other stages in her life, specifically at ten (just after the Mexico trip), twenty-three, and forty. This isn’t some mental break—other people can see and interact with the extra Sarahs. This drives home the point that everyone is only at a particular point in their lives—they have a past where they were different but still themselves, and they’ll have a future where the same holds true. It’s interesting.

This is a loaded and layered book and you’ll probably see different things than I did. Whatever you might find, it’s worth your time if you enjoy magical realism or have liked King’s other books.