Tag Archives: A.S. King

Still Life with Tornado, by A.S. King

still-life-with-tornadoSarah has decided not to return to school late in her senior year of high school. Nothing new ever happens; nothing is original there. As an artist, Sarah craves originality. She begins to follow a homeless artist named Earl around town, where she is often joined by ten-year-old Sarah or twenty-three-year-old Sarah. This is no hallucination; other people can see the alternate Sarahs as well. Her father doesn’t recognize ten-year-old Sarah, but her mother nearly passes out.

Her parents try to gently steer Sarah back to school, but she very openly and stubbornly refuses to go. She is dealing with something that will not come out in the open, but she keeps thinking about a drawing that her classmate, Carmen, had made at school. It was a tornado, and it just looked like a gray funnel cloud, but as Carmen said, people only see the outside of a tornado, but it could be hiding all kinds of things inside. The last thing Sarah’s older brother, Bruce, had said to her before he left the family nine years ago was, “You can always come stay with me, no matter where I am.” Why did he say that?

A.S. King has triumphed again in writing a beautiful, heartbreaking, coming-of-age story with an element of magical realism that works seamlessly with her nitty-gritty, deeply flawed characters. The reader yearns for Sarah to unravel her past, to expose what happened to send her into her current spiral, and to value her own artistic genius again. King explores the different forms that abuse can take and the relationships between siblings who experience abuse differently, as well as the lasting love that cannot be destroyed by all the pain.

King is one of my “always” authors. I read everything she writes, and she never goes wrong. Another King favorite of mine from a male perspective is Everybody Sees the Ants. Still Life with Tornado is for older teens and adults, and has strong language throughout.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, by A.S. King

Glory O'BrienGlory O’Brien is a gifted photographer, just as her mother was. She hopes that her pictures can help her to make sense of her mother’s suicide, and she has cut herself off from everyone but her grieving father and her best friend, Ellie. She worries that she is doomed to repeat her mother’s ending until the night that she and Ellie drink the bat. Yes, bat, as in flying mammal. After that, the girls acquire the ability to see a person’s past and future through many generations when they look them in the eye. This ability may sound awesome, but in reality, seeing the future can be more than a human being can bear to know. Glory begins to move through life with downcast eyes.

In the meantime, Glory finds her mother’s journal in her darkroom and starts to uncover strange bits of information about Ellie’s domineering mother, who runs the commune Ellie lives on across the street from Glory and her dad. Ellie is homeschooled, and some of her choices are taking a toll on the girls’ friendship. With no friends, unsettling supernatural abilities, unnerving discoveries about her parents’ past, and an agoraphobic dad, will Glory move toward her mother’s end, or acquire the strength to overcome it?

A.S. King is a reliably excellent young adult author. Her characters’ dialogue and mindset are authentically “teen,” and the parents are almost always fully fleshed-out characters, instead of cardboard cutouts or wicked villains, as in so many YA novels. Glory O’Brien is an essentially realistic novel with a touch of the fantastical, and the visions are dealt with as yet one more burden of the teen years.

***Rant Warning***  I do have one quibble, but it is not unique to King. Over the past few years, perhaps beginning with Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, authors routinely use homeschooled kids as the stock “Other” character, particularly “the feral child.” It seems that all homeschooled kids in books are raised on farms or in communes, and often have no experience of the larger world— which is odd, really, since they are not the ones locked up in a room with 30 other kids their exact same age all day long. Be that as it may, the homeschooled child or teen seems to be writers’ 21st century, American Émile. As a former homeschooling mom, I am beginning to see this as a tiresome trope. It is true that homeschooled children are not Just Another Brick in the Wall, because, after all, that is the point. However, homeschooled kids come from all kinds of families, economic conditions, and geographic areas. They move within a broad range of children and adults every day, and are just as likely to program your computer as to chop your firewood. So… let’s give it a rest, shall we?

End of rant.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future is an absorbing coming-of-age novel for upper teens to adult.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own, and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. Rants are optional and free of charge.

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Reality Boy, by A.S. King

ImageI despise reality television. Always have. Now, I’m not talking about American Idol or Dancing with the Stars, which are innocuous enough, but rather the shows that put an assortment of poor or wealthy degraded types into a dwelling together and encourage them to act as if they’ve never had a parent. Perhaps it would have been better if they never had. In any case, they are mean and hateful toward one another, cursing, fighting, caring about material things more than people, wearing insufficient clothing, and having injudicious sexual encounters. I despise them because I fear that some less-educated, morally deprived Americans (i.e., about 80% of the population) may wish to emulate them because they think that they’re cool. They’re not cool. They are vermin and should be exterminated.

The very worst of reality TV people put their own children on television. If you don’t think that this is a good enough reason to remove these children from their parents, you will after you read Reality Boy. Gerald’s family was part of a reality TV show beginning when he was five years old and continuing for a couple of years. There was a fake nanny with a fake British accent who tried to rearrange their fake lives and improve his behay-vyah. She refused to believe him and his sister, Lisi, when they told her that their oldest sister, Tasha, was trying to kill them. Tasha was able to perform all of her evil deeds off-camera, so that America’s viewers only saw Gerald fighting back. So, Gerald grew up being labeled as a terror with learning disabilities, when he was really just a normal boy who wanted to live. Needless to say, when we meet Gerald just before his seventeenth birthday, he has years of really ineffective anger management classes under his belt. He goes to special ed. classes, even though he can do linear equations without thinking. His mother and his therapist have convinced him that he’ll never do anything with his life, and his highest goal is to avoid jail time. They’ve also convinced him that he should never have a girlfriend, since he would probably beat her or kill her. So when he works his job as cashier #7 at the hockey rink refreshment stand, he only stares in longing at The Girl at Register #1 and slips off into Gersday, an imaginary world he’s created where everything is perfect and there’s an endless supply of strawberry ice cream. Lisi, in the meantime, has moved to Scotland.

Now is a good time to let you know that Reality Boy is not for anyone who is sensitive to foul language or some of the more deviant of human behaviors. Tasha is truly a piece of work, and part of her problems manifest as sexual addiction when she’s not trying to murder someone. Their parents are completely dysfunctional and hopeless. I doubt that I would have read this book if I did not already love A.S. King, and if I had not become so angry at everyone in Gerald’s life that I had to see if he would ever be able to unwrap the plastic coating he had mentally wrapped himself in. Jail was looking really likely there for a while. I found myself identifying with the hockey mom who comes up to the refreshment stand one night, recognizes him, and gives him a big, sympathetic hug.

If you have the constitution, it is a riveting story with great characters, and it will make you furious. For older teens and adults in October, 2013.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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