Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

Still Life With Tornado

King, A.S. (Author)
Penguin Random House 2016. 296 pages
First published: 2016
ISBN: 9781101994887 (hardcover)
9781101994900 (paperback)
9781101994894 (e-book)
Original language: English
Book type: Novel
Book genre: Realistic

Text Elements:

characterization, conflict, figurative language, point of view

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

Sarah has decided to drop out of high school—“I was missing,” she explains, “I was either in the past or in the future.” There are no original thoughts anyway, she muses as she lapses into nihilism and moves toward the learned apathy of adulthood. She spends her days wandering around Philadelphia, haunting an abandoned school building, shadowing a local homeless man-cum-street-artist, and occasionally popping in to visit familiar favourites at the art gallery. Unexpectedly, she runs into other versions of herself—10-year-old Sarah, Sarah at 23 and in her 40s. As she meanders, talks to her selves and reconnects with her estranged brother, Sarah learns more about her parents’ tense relationship. The reader, meanwhile, finds out that Sarah’s decision to leave school is tied to inappropriate teacher behaviour, to intimidation at the hands of senior art-club members and to the sabotage of her entry—a truly original wire sculpture—in the school art show.

Largely written in the first person, the novel also includes chapters from the point of view of Sarah’s mother, offering insight into the antagonisms of her marriage and the challenges of her work as an emergency-room night nurse. Frequent flashbacks, notably to a pivotal family trip to Mexico, add a layer of temporal complexity. The various ages of Sarah have distinct voices—the youngest notably has a penchant for expletives, while her young-adult self is cocky and condescending—and their magic-realist integration in the narrative develops the characterization of the protagonist.

  •  The story follows 16 year-old Sarah as she encounters herself at different ages. Readers need to attend to the changes in perspective and voice as they read.
  •  In small groups, discuss the way Sarah is constructed (at different ages). Discuss the age(s) when Sarah is more reliable/dependable/relatable as a narrator. Consider what this might say about her.
  •  

    The story may be included in a set of texts used for literature circles (or book club) discussions that explore relevant ideas and issues.

  •  If you were able to interview your 10 and 23-year-old self, what questions would you ask, respectively? Pair up and compare questions with a partner. What insight are you looking to gain based on your questions?
  •  In the novel, the reader encounters 10, 16, 23 and 40-year-old Sarah. Write one or two words that describe each Sarah. Be prepared to justify your answers with passages from the text.
  •  

    As one of these three characters—Bruce, Chet, Miss Smith—write Sarah an email, telling her what you think about her dropping out of school. Be sure to respect the character’s personality and relationship with Sarah at the end of the story.

  • To communicate appropriately
  • To construct his/her identity
  • To cooperate with others
  • To exercise critical judgment
  • Health and Well-Being
  • Personal Development
  • Social Sciences
  • Visual Arts