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Still Life with Tornado

Author A.S. King
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A heartbreaking and mindbending story of a talented teenage artist's awakening to the brokenness of her family from acclaimed Printz award-winner A.S. King.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah can't draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has "done the art." She thinks she's having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she's finally waking up to 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. After decades of staying together "for the kids" and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah's parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original—and yet it still hurts.
 
Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this is a vivid portrait of abuse, survival, resurgence that will linger with readers long after the last page.

“Read this book, whatever your age. You may find it’s the exact shape and size of the hole in your heart.”—The New York Times 

“Surreal and thought-provoking.”—People Magazine

★ ”A deeply moving, frank, and compassionate exploration of trauma and resilience, filled to the brim with incisive, grounded wisdom.” —Booklist, starred review
 
★ ”King writes with the confidence of a tightrope walker working without a net.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★"[King] blurs reality, truth, violence, emotion, creativity, and art in a show of respect for YA readers."—Horn Book Magazine, starred review

★ “King’s brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. […] An unforgettable experience.” SLJ, starred review
© A.S. King
Hailed by the New York Times as “one of the best YA writers working today,” A.S. King is the author of over a dozen books for young readers. She is the only two-time winner of the Michael L. Printz Award. She is the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She is the recipient of both the Margaret A. Edwards Award and the ALAN Award for her lifetime contributions to young adult literature. King lives with her family in Pennsylvania, where she returned after living on a farm and teaching adult literacy in Ireland for more than a decade. View titles by A.S. King
The Tornado 

Nothing ever really happens.
            Or, more accurately, nothing new ever really happens.

 
My art teacher, Miss Smith, once said that there is no such thing as an original idea. We all think we’re having original ideas, but we aren’t. “You’re stuck on repeat. I’m stuck on repeat. We’re all stuck on repeat.” That’s what she said. Then she flipped her hair back over her shoulder like what she said didn’t mean anything and told us to spend the rest of class sorting through all the old broken shit she gets people to donate so we can make art. She held up half of a vinyl record. “Every single thing we think is original is like this. Just pieces of something else.”
 
Two weeks ago Carmen said she had an original idea, and then she drew a tornado, but tornadoes aren’t original. Tornadoes are so old that the sky made them before we were even here. Carmen said that the sketch was not of a tornado, but everything it contained. All I saw was flying, churning dust. She said there was a car in there. She said a family pet was in there. A wagon wheel. Broken pieces of a house. A quart of milk. Photo albums. A box of stale corn flakes.

All I could see was the funnel and that’s all anyone else could see and Carmen said that we weren’t looking hard enough. She said art wasn’t supposed to be literal. But that doesn’t erase the fact that the drawing was of a tornado and that’s it.
 
Our next assignment was to sketch a still life. Miss Smith put out three bowls of fruit and told us we could arrange the fruit in any way we wanted. I picked one pear and I stared at it and stared at my drawing pad and I didn’t sketch anything.

I acted calm, like I was just daydreaming, but I was paralyzed. Carmen looked at me and I shrugged like I didn’t care. I couldn’t move my hand. I felt numb. I felt like crying. I felt both of those things. Not always in art class, either.

When I handed in a blank paper at the end of class, I said, “I’ve lost the will to participate.”

Miss Smith thought I meant art class. But I meant that I’d lost the will to participate in anything. I wanted to be the paper. I wanted to be whiter than white. Blanker than blank.

The next day Miss Smith said that I should do blind drawings of my hand. Blind drawings are when you draw something without looking at the paper. I drew twelve of them. But then I wondered how many people have done blind drawings of their hands and I figured it must be the most unoriginal thing in the world.

She said, “But it’s your hand. No one else can draw that.”

I told her that nothing ever really happens.

“Nothing ever really happens,” I said.

She said, “That’s probably true.” She didn’t even look up from the papers she was shuffling. Her bared shoulders were already tan and it wasn’t even halfway through April. I stood there staring at her shoulders, thinking about how nothing ever really happens. Lots of stuff has happened to Miss Smith. I knew that.

My hands shook because I couldn’t draw the pear. She looked up and I know she saw me shaking. She could have said anything to me then. Something nice. Something encouraging. Instead, she repeated herself.

She said, “That’s probably true.”

So I stopped going to school.

 
It’s true about the letters they’ll send when you stop going to school. After a week or so they come after you and make you meet with the principal. But that’s happened before, just like tornadoes, so it didn’t impress me. My parents escorted me into the school building and they apologized a hundred times for my behavior but I didn’t apologize even once.

I couldn’t think of one reaction to the meeting with the principal that was original. Apologizing, crying, yelling, spitting, punching, silence—none of those things are original. I tried to levitate. I tried to self-combust like a defective firework.

Now that would be original.
“Moving, unapologetically strange, skillfully constructed…. Read this book, whatever your age. You may find it’s the exact shape and size of the hole in your heart.”—The New York Times 

"Fans of Perks of Being a Wallflower will love this powerful new release from award-winning A.S. King."—Buzzfeed

“Surreal and thought-provoking.”—People Magazine

“You’ll find Still Life’s exploration of an artist’s inner strength particularly enriching.”—Teen Vogue

A 2016 New York Times Notable Children's Book

News & Observer Best Book of 2016

Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016 

School Library Journal Best Book of 2016

Booklist Best Book of 2016

Booklist
 Top of the List 2016

A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2016

A BookPage Best Teen Book of 2016

A Bustle Top 30 YA Book of 2016

A Nerdy Book Club Best YA of 2016

A Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year

NAIBA Young Adult Book of the Year Award Winner 2017

★ "King’s brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. [...] An unforgettable experience."—SLJ, starred review

★ ”A deeply moving, frank, and compassionate exploration of trauma and resilience, filled to the brim with incisive, grounded wisdom.” —Booklist, starred review
 
★ ”The presentation of the surreal as real, the deeply thoughtful questions she poses, the way she empowers her teenage characters to change the trajectory of their lives—King writes with the confidence of a tightrope walker working without a net.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ "Lack of original ideas is not something found in work by A.S. King, who blurs reality, truth, violence, emotion, creativity, and art in a show of respect for YA readers."—Horn Book Magazine, starred review

★ "Books about abusive families generally follow the problem-novel script of recognition, admission, and solution; in her inimitable style, King takes a totally different tack, exploring (through interpolated sections from Sarah’s mother as well as Sarah’s narration) the way abuse warps and gnarls a family over time into a thorny growth of anger and denial that becomes a daily norm, even for members who aren’t direct victims.... Readers won’t have to live with abuse firsthand to recognize the taut, invisible coils of family dysfunction and the difficulty of gaining perspective on it, let alone breaking free."—BCCB, starred review

★"King's ingeniously crafted, deeply engaging Still Life with Tornado will have readers by the collar the whole time."—Shelf Awareness, starred review

"King understands and writes teen anxieties like no other, resulting in difficult, resonant, compelling characters and stories."—Kirkus

"A.S. King is known for crafting deeply sympathetic portraits of teenagers in crisis, and Still Life with Tornado is no exception."—BookPage

"A.S. King has always brought her unique touch to her YA novels, but she may have outdone even herself in Still Life with Tornado."—Bustle 

“The payoff is great. King’s surreal elements are balanced as always by the lucidity of her prose, and her generous, unflagging faith in her readers’ ability to keep up with her mental fireworks results yet again in a book that’s truly singular.”—B&N Teen, “Best YA Books of 2016”

"Though touched with magical realism, this is otherwise a wholly contemporary story about a girl who needs to come to terms with her family’s toxic and painful history before she can start dreaming of the future."—Bookish: "Fall 2016’s Unputdownable Contemporary Young Adult Books."

 
Praise for Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (2014)
"Maybe there are writers more adept than King at capturing the outrageous and outraged voice of teenagers, but it’s difficult to think of one.” 
—The New York Times
 
Praise for Reality Boy (2013)
“Timely, incisive, compassionate. All of A.S. King’s novels are must-reads.” —Matthew Quick, New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
 

 

AS King: What I Wish I Knew

AS King Pitches STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO

AS King: 5 Things To Know About STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO

About

A heartbreaking and mindbending story of a talented teenage artist's awakening to the brokenness of her family from acclaimed Printz award-winner A.S. King.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah can't draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has "done the art." She thinks she's having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she's finally waking up to 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. After decades of staying together "for the kids" and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah's parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original—and yet it still hurts.
 
Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this is a vivid portrait of abuse, survival, resurgence that will linger with readers long after the last page.

“Read this book, whatever your age. You may find it’s the exact shape and size of the hole in your heart.”—The New York Times 

“Surreal and thought-provoking.”—People Magazine

★ ”A deeply moving, frank, and compassionate exploration of trauma and resilience, filled to the brim with incisive, grounded wisdom.” —Booklist, starred review
 
★ ”King writes with the confidence of a tightrope walker working without a net.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★"[King] blurs reality, truth, violence, emotion, creativity, and art in a show of respect for YA readers."—Horn Book Magazine, starred review

★ “King’s brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. […] An unforgettable experience.” SLJ, starred review

Author

© A.S. King
Hailed by the New York Times as “one of the best YA writers working today,” A.S. King is the author of over a dozen books for young readers. She is the only two-time winner of the Michael L. Printz Award. She is the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She is the recipient of both the Margaret A. Edwards Award and the ALAN Award for her lifetime contributions to young adult literature. King lives with her family in Pennsylvania, where she returned after living on a farm and teaching adult literacy in Ireland for more than a decade. View titles by A.S. King

Excerpt

The Tornado 

Nothing ever really happens.
            Or, more accurately, nothing new ever really happens.

 
My art teacher, Miss Smith, once said that there is no such thing as an original idea. We all think we’re having original ideas, but we aren’t. “You’re stuck on repeat. I’m stuck on repeat. We’re all stuck on repeat.” That’s what she said. Then she flipped her hair back over her shoulder like what she said didn’t mean anything and told us to spend the rest of class sorting through all the old broken shit she gets people to donate so we can make art. She held up half of a vinyl record. “Every single thing we think is original is like this. Just pieces of something else.”
 
Two weeks ago Carmen said she had an original idea, and then she drew a tornado, but tornadoes aren’t original. Tornadoes are so old that the sky made them before we were even here. Carmen said that the sketch was not of a tornado, but everything it contained. All I saw was flying, churning dust. She said there was a car in there. She said a family pet was in there. A wagon wheel. Broken pieces of a house. A quart of milk. Photo albums. A box of stale corn flakes.

All I could see was the funnel and that’s all anyone else could see and Carmen said that we weren’t looking hard enough. She said art wasn’t supposed to be literal. But that doesn’t erase the fact that the drawing was of a tornado and that’s it.
 
Our next assignment was to sketch a still life. Miss Smith put out three bowls of fruit and told us we could arrange the fruit in any way we wanted. I picked one pear and I stared at it and stared at my drawing pad and I didn’t sketch anything.

I acted calm, like I was just daydreaming, but I was paralyzed. Carmen looked at me and I shrugged like I didn’t care. I couldn’t move my hand. I felt numb. I felt like crying. I felt both of those things. Not always in art class, either.

When I handed in a blank paper at the end of class, I said, “I’ve lost the will to participate.”

Miss Smith thought I meant art class. But I meant that I’d lost the will to participate in anything. I wanted to be the paper. I wanted to be whiter than white. Blanker than blank.

The next day Miss Smith said that I should do blind drawings of my hand. Blind drawings are when you draw something without looking at the paper. I drew twelve of them. But then I wondered how many people have done blind drawings of their hands and I figured it must be the most unoriginal thing in the world.

She said, “But it’s your hand. No one else can draw that.”

I told her that nothing ever really happens.

“Nothing ever really happens,” I said.

She said, “That’s probably true.” She didn’t even look up from the papers she was shuffling. Her bared shoulders were already tan and it wasn’t even halfway through April. I stood there staring at her shoulders, thinking about how nothing ever really happens. Lots of stuff has happened to Miss Smith. I knew that.

My hands shook because I couldn’t draw the pear. She looked up and I know she saw me shaking. She could have said anything to me then. Something nice. Something encouraging. Instead, she repeated herself.

She said, “That’s probably true.”

So I stopped going to school.

 
It’s true about the letters they’ll send when you stop going to school. After a week or so they come after you and make you meet with the principal. But that’s happened before, just like tornadoes, so it didn’t impress me. My parents escorted me into the school building and they apologized a hundred times for my behavior but I didn’t apologize even once.

I couldn’t think of one reaction to the meeting with the principal that was original. Apologizing, crying, yelling, spitting, punching, silence—none of those things are original. I tried to levitate. I tried to self-combust like a defective firework.

Now that would be original.

Praise

“Moving, unapologetically strange, skillfully constructed…. Read this book, whatever your age. You may find it’s the exact shape and size of the hole in your heart.”—The New York Times 

"Fans of Perks of Being a Wallflower will love this powerful new release from award-winning A.S. King."—Buzzfeed

“Surreal and thought-provoking.”—People Magazine

“You’ll find Still Life’s exploration of an artist’s inner strength particularly enriching.”—Teen Vogue

A 2016 New York Times Notable Children's Book

News & Observer Best Book of 2016

Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016 

School Library Journal Best Book of 2016

Booklist Best Book of 2016

Booklist
 Top of the List 2016

A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2016

A BookPage Best Teen Book of 2016

A Bustle Top 30 YA Book of 2016

A Nerdy Book Club Best YA of 2016

A Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year

NAIBA Young Adult Book of the Year Award Winner 2017

★ "King’s brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. [...] An unforgettable experience."—SLJ, starred review

★ ”A deeply moving, frank, and compassionate exploration of trauma and resilience, filled to the brim with incisive, grounded wisdom.” —Booklist, starred review
 
★ ”The presentation of the surreal as real, the deeply thoughtful questions she poses, the way she empowers her teenage characters to change the trajectory of their lives—King writes with the confidence of a tightrope walker working without a net.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ "Lack of original ideas is not something found in work by A.S. King, who blurs reality, truth, violence, emotion, creativity, and art in a show of respect for YA readers."—Horn Book Magazine, starred review

★ "Books about abusive families generally follow the problem-novel script of recognition, admission, and solution; in her inimitable style, King takes a totally different tack, exploring (through interpolated sections from Sarah’s mother as well as Sarah’s narration) the way abuse warps and gnarls a family over time into a thorny growth of anger and denial that becomes a daily norm, even for members who aren’t direct victims.... Readers won’t have to live with abuse firsthand to recognize the taut, invisible coils of family dysfunction and the difficulty of gaining perspective on it, let alone breaking free."—BCCB, starred review

★"King's ingeniously crafted, deeply engaging Still Life with Tornado will have readers by the collar the whole time."—Shelf Awareness, starred review

"King understands and writes teen anxieties like no other, resulting in difficult, resonant, compelling characters and stories."—Kirkus

"A.S. King is known for crafting deeply sympathetic portraits of teenagers in crisis, and Still Life with Tornado is no exception."—BookPage

"A.S. King has always brought her unique touch to her YA novels, but she may have outdone even herself in Still Life with Tornado."—Bustle 

“The payoff is great. King’s surreal elements are balanced as always by the lucidity of her prose, and her generous, unflagging faith in her readers’ ability to keep up with her mental fireworks results yet again in a book that’s truly singular.”—B&N Teen, “Best YA Books of 2016”

"Though touched with magical realism, this is otherwise a wholly contemporary story about a girl who needs to come to terms with her family’s toxic and painful history before she can start dreaming of the future."—Bookish: "Fall 2016’s Unputdownable Contemporary Young Adult Books."

 
Praise for Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (2014)
"Maybe there are writers more adept than King at capturing the outrageous and outraged voice of teenagers, but it’s difficult to think of one.” 
—The New York Times
 
Praise for Reality Boy (2013)
“Timely, incisive, compassionate. All of A.S. King’s novels are must-reads.” —Matthew Quick, New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
 

 

Media

AS King: What I Wish I Knew

AS King Pitches STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO

AS King: 5 Things To Know About STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO

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