Lost Worlds, Coveted Ones

Beth Kephart is the author of Small Damages (Philomel), about 18-year-old Kenzie, sent to Spain to hide her pregnancy, who learns to love the country, its people and herself.

My books for young adults are frequently shaped by relationships between those who have so much wanting yet ahead and those looking back, with pain and wonder. Time works differently in books like these, and so does memory.

My mother's mother passed away when I was nine years old, but in my mind she never went far. I'd find her in cloud forms and in the color peach. I'd wear her single pearl around my neck. There's something a generation twice removed yields mysteriously to the young--resilience and perspicacity, perhaps, a certain quality of time-soaked love--and in all my subsequent growing up I never lost the sound of that story.

The relationship between Estela, an old cook who survived the Spanish Civil War, and Kenzie, a pregnant American teen who is reluctantly spending her summer at a cortijo outside Seville, revealed itself to me slowly as I wrote Small Damages. The book took nearly a decade to write.

What could the seasoned soul with the dragging apron strings teach the smart and lonesome American girl? How could the sufferings of a nearly buried civil war be relevant to a teen whose life had been the stuff of Jersey shores, high school proms, and college aspirations? What is ageless? What is universal? How do the vestiges of conflict and deprivation carry forward, and what can they teach? What constitutes forever in the landscape of the young, and what finally unites Spanish and English, lost worlds and coveted ones, buried secrets and indecision?

Writing Small Damages gave me the opportunity, even the responsibility, to explore questions like these. It gave me the privilege of sitting Kenzie down at Estela's table to learn the language not just of loss, but of life asserted and fully lived. My grandmother understood both things. I carry her knowing forward. --Beth Kephart

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