Still Life with Tornado
by A.S. King
Dutton, 2016, 295 pages, Young Adult Fiction
Sixteen-year-old Sarah thinks she's having an existential crisis. For one thing, she can no longer draw, and art is her life. For another, she keeps running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia. As Sarah tries to figure out what’s happening to her, she becomes more aware of other things she’s been repressing from her memory. Specifically, Sarah becomes more aware of 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.
This is my first book by A.S. King, and I can see why she’s so highly praised. In the hands of a less skillful writer, the appearance of past and future Sarahs could seem like a gimmick. King uses them to give Sarah the courage she needs to confront the problems she and her family haven’t been dealing with. I also appreciated that there are many different layers to Sarah’s problems, and that Sarah has to rely on others, as well as on herself, in order to conquer her demons. Although the resolution of the book felt a little rushed to me, I think King did a great job in slowly revealing different elements of the story to keep my interest throughout.
I listened to the audio book, and it was excellently read. Those who are sensitive to strong language should know that there's a side character who swears a lot, but it makes sense in context and is not gratuitous.