Saturday, August 24, 2013

Small Damages

Small Damages by Beth Kephart (2012)

It's bad enough that Kenzie's father has died unexpectedly, but when she is still reeling from the tragedy she learns that she is pregnant. Her disappointed mother is so ashamed she sends Kenzie to Spain where she will live among strangers for the duration of her pregnancy before giving up the baby for adoption.

Kenzie is sullen and uncooperative, which is understandable given her situation. She is all but lost in Spain, young and alone and pregnant in a foreign country. It must be very disorienting. Not to mention that she must feel so unwanted by her mother and her boyfriend, and still missing her father terribly. She slowly warms up to the strange group of people with whom she is living. The owner of the house where she is staying is Miguel, and his cook Estela becomes sort of a mother figure to Kenzie, trying to teach her to cook and also to help her search her own heart and decide what she wants. Kenzie is also intrigued by the mysterious young Estaban and his birds, and the band of gypsies that Estela tries hard to avoid.

The writing is spare and a bit ethereal, a few details carefully chosen to evoke the atmosphere. Quotation marks are used infrequently in conversations, adding to the feeling of unreality. The effect was a beautiful style not usually found in young adult literature. Although I could absolutely see some teens liking this, I think an adult who didn't know it was marketed to teens wouldn't recognize it as a young adult book.

A lot is left unsaid, and we get only glimpses of Kenzie's life before Spain. The decision that brought her there was unclear; we know it was her mother's choice, but how much did Kenzie protest? We also see only a snippet of her conversations with the baby's father. We know almost nothing of her life and future plans before the pregnancy, except that she had an apparent interest in filmmaking which somewhat parallels her father's work as a photographer.

I believe the whole story took place in just a few weeks, which seems short for how important Kenzie comes to be to Estela and the others. She was so instantly drawn to Estaban in what seems to be a romantic way, which I found a bit odd given her situation. I would think romance would be the last thing on her mind. Still, I can see why she would be intrigued by him, and he was the only person around who was close to her age. I liked watching her relationship develop with these strangers who took her in so selflessly and made her a part of their family.

Small Damages was a short little book. It was close to 300 pages but there was little text on each page, plus the writing style made it flow pretty rapidly, and I read it in under 24 hours. I don't think this story will really stick with me, but it was a short, lovely, atmospheric trip to Spain.

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