Books for Big Brains: A.S. King’s Still Life with Tornado

Books for Big Brains: A.S. King’s Still Life with Tornado

Every so often we’re sent a new book that’s written by, or about, women. We’ve decided to take advantage of this by publishing short, succinct reviews that give you the lowdown on the quality content found within each book’s pages. These reviews form part of an ongoing series: Books for Big Brains.

How could it get any better, you ask? Well, we want to send YOU the books for FREE. If you’d like to be among the first to get your hands on the latest publications, all you have to do is provide us with your opinion on the book you’re sent in the form of a 200-300 word review. Sound like a sweet deal? Get in touch with us!

This time around, Hannah Spyksma reviews the latest from YA author A.S. King, Still Life With Tornado.

Let’s get this out of the way first: I am not 16 years old. I am also not a usual reader of young adult fiction, and my life has never been thrown into the midst of a tornado. But I can appreciate the energy of a good storm.

That unmistakable feeling of a storm brewing is what A.S King’s Still Life with Tornado delivers. Like a drop in air pressure that precedes thunder (and, I can only suppose, a tornado), the book starts with an atmospheric intensity. Sixteen-year-old Sarah’s life is falling apart, and she’s not sure why. Art, her raison-d’être, is no longer worth making and the threads of her projects are unravelling along with any glue that might have stuck her family together.

There is an electricity to Sarah’s life situation; this is what compelled me to keep turning pages. As the story/storm intensifies, so does the pace of King’s writing.

One liners. One page chapters. Mess. Chaos. Energy. Collapse. Then, still life. It is a fast-paced read and slow at the same time, throwing threads of Sarah’s life into an oncoming tornado and then pausing to reflect on the conditions that formed her life-long storm. The story is layered, yet it is an easy read.

Still Life with Tornado has been compared to The Perks of Being a Wallflower and to that I would add the film Ginger & Rosa. I can see why. All these stories centre on a teenager experiencing the kind of life trauma that is often ignored or brushed off by others as teenage angst. Such framing allows themes of identity and worthiness to be explored through the writing. Who are we in relation to our family? Our peers? What does success mean and what role does ‘doing well at school’ play in defining our life trajectories? What makes us worthy of owning our individual life stories without being ridiculed for them?

All these existential questions are relatable beyond the teenage years too – I am still asking myself many of these things in my late 20s.

In this way, you don’t need to be a ‘young adult’ to engage with the story or appreciate its plot. That said, I think that focusing on the experiences of a teenager brings a certain fragility to the story.

As a slightly-older reader, it is hard to observe trauma unfolding and not feel compelled to be less judgemental of small things that are often considered to be inconsequential teenage drama – like getting upset over someone stealing your idea in art class. You never know what tornado is ripping through someone’s life.

Just as there is calm after a storm, the book ends with a certain peace to it. I think its strength was in the chaos, however. It is in the midst of Sarah’s unravelling that I felt King’s writing was at its best. I would have liked to see the mother character developed a little further, and some of the other characters left me with lingering questions. Perhaps that is the very nature of a tornado: it may follow a relatively predictable trajectory from build-up to aftermath. But it is what gets caught up in its path that makes each storm unique, and this book definitely had some very original, unique storytelling elements. As Sarah might say: now that’s art.

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

RRP: $19.99 (available from Text Publishing and Avid Reader among others)


Want to review a book for us as part of Books for Big Brains? Get in touch with us by emailing Emma Kate Lewis via emma@hotchickwithbigbrains.com.

Images and Review by Hannah Spyksma

Compiled by Emma Kate Lewis with thanks to Text Publishing

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