Still Life with Tornado

It can be paralyzing for anyone to be told there are no original ideas, yet that's exactly what the art teacher tells 16-year-old Sarah's high school class. Sarah's friend Carmen insists her freshly drawn still life of a tornado is "original," but Sarah says it's just a funnel. The teacher's bleak outlook shakes Sarah deeply; before she knows it, she's quit school and is on her way to City Hall to change her name to Umbrella.

Printz Honor author A.S. King (Please Ignore Vera Dietz; I Crawl Through It) paints a brilliant portrait of a teenaged Philadelphia artist having a full-on existential crisis. Over the years, Sarah has become numb to her parents' obvious mutual contempt, and she misses her older brother, Bruce, who fled to Oregon six years ago after a traumatic family vacation in Mexico. As the former student wanders the Philadelphia streets, she's occasionally joined by a 10-year-old version of herself (a less numb one) and sometimes a 23-year-old version of herself (one less concerned with originality) and, later, a 40-year-old one who is "a lot cooler." They aren't hallucinations--her mother can see them, too. As Sarah says, "I tell the truth slowly." So that is how the reader is fed Sarah's narrative, including how her abusive father's rage (anger that can smell like "trash day in mid-August") shapes the family... and why she really quit school.

King's ingeniously crafted, deeply engaging Still Life with Tornado will have readers by the collar the whole time as Sarah comes to see that her family is more tornado than still life. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

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