Google+ YA Romantics: Just Finished Reading ... Small Damages

Monday, July 9, 2012

Just Finished Reading ... Small Damages

Small Damages
by Beth Kephart

To be published by Penguin/Philomel

on July 19, 2012

Source: ARC trade with another blogger






My summary: Kenzie's got her whole life ahead of her. A recent high school grad and aspiring videographer, she's been accepted at a prestigious film school. One small problem: she's also four months pregnant. Kenzie's mother, still grieving the sudden death of Kenzie's dad, orders Kenzie to keep the pregnancy a secret and sends her to live with family friends in Spain. Kenzie's mom has it all planned out: Kenzie will give birth there, place the baby in the arms of his or her adoptive parents, then return to her life as if nothing ever happened. As she arrives in Seville, Kenzie is mass of emotions -- confused, abandoned, hormonal. But slowly, she begins to see her situation with clearer focus.


My take: It's hard not to feel for Kenzie, a girl who discovers that one moment of throwing caution to the wind is going to have huge, life-altering consequences. She's alone in a foreign country without support from anyone -- not her parents, not the baby's father, not her friends. Her banishment does feel a touch retro in a time when teenagers proudly flaunt baby bumps on reality TV. But in every other way, Small Damages is a realistic, unsentimental take on teen pregnancy. There's no hint of preachiness here --  Kenzie's situation is neither romanticized nor sensationalized.

All the characters in Small Damages are well-drawn, but by far my favorite was Estela. Cranky, exacting Estela, who scolds Kenzie and mothers her and teaches her to cook and tells her stories. Estela's stories about the way her family suffered under the Franco regime are what help Kenzie move beyond her teenage self-centeredness. When Estela tells Kenzie about a difficult situation in her own past, it is a defining moment for Kenzie. Can she do what her mother wants -- erase these months from her life like a piece of film on the cutting room floor and splice her perfect life back together?

The writing in Small Damages is absolutely beautiful, the kind of poetic writing that made me stop and re-read sentences just to savor them one more time. I've never been to Spain, but the descriptions in this book made me feel like I was right there.  

When I open the door, a nun blackbirds by, and I keep walking out into the air, which smells like fruit and sun and the color blue; it smells like the color blue in Seville.

Sometime I think reading so much makes me jaded. I open new books thinking: "yeah, book, how are you going to impress me?" This book didn't employ a single gimmick -- no razzle-dazzle premise or jaw-dropping plot twists or other trendy literary pyrotechnics.  It just told a story, movingly and beautifully. I highly recommend it!

35 comments:

  1. Wow-what a situation for Kenzie-all alone in a foreign country where she undergoes a life-changing experience and then is supposed to come back like it didn't affect her. I haven't loved any of Kephart's books but I'm very tempted to give this one a try especially to meet Estela.

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    1. I loved the calm, balanced take on the tricky subject of teen pregnancy-- plus the amazing historical and travelogue details gave the story so much depth and resonance. Huge fan of this book :)

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  2. I can't imagine what Kenzie went through and being pregnant in a foreign country sounds extreme and also scary. It makes me sad that her parents couldn't deal with the news and choosing reputation over loving their daughter and sticking by her. This has a Secret Life of the American Teenager feel, except that Amy was given the choice to ride out her pregnancy at her grandmother's but her parents were always there. I'm not the biggest fan of pregnancy books but this one does sound good.

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    1. I have not seen that show -- like you, I am somewhat wary of the teen pregnancy theme. But I really liked this book a lot!

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    2. Secret Life isn't truly realistic but its still good and entertaining.

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  3. Great review!! I have seen a lot of mixed things about this book, but I am glad that you enjoyed it.

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    1. It is definitely more on the literary side of the spectrum, but I really enjoyed it!

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  4. I'm glad I read your review. I now I'm not supposed to judge a book by its cover but somehow I was under the assumption that this was some cheesy book about a middle aged woman. I wasn't aware it was about teen pregnancy! A teen being pregnant in a foreign land that too. Sounds intriguing. I have added it to my TBR list, thanks!

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    1. Okay, you made me laugh because I thought the same thing. Somewhere I saw it compared to Under the Tuscan Sun and I am not a big fan of books about women who want to "find themselves." Oranges play a big part in the book so I guess that explains some of the cover.

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  5. Wow, I feel really bad for her, what with her mom sending her away just when she needs her the most. It would be so hard to give up a baby because your parents want you to.. I think this would be something that I would enjoy reading, I like stories about pregnancy. And foreign coutries, so this sounds like a good book to me!

    Thanks for the review!

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    1. From reading this I got such a great sense of Spanish culture and history -- if you love stories set in other countries, definitely give it a try!

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  6. This is soo odd. I have a friend who just gave a baby up for adoption from a teen pregnancy and it makes me sad! But her fan was super supportive so nothing like this book. The writing does seem good ;)

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    1. That has to be such a difficult situation -- I'm so glad her family supported her in her decision!

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  7. Beautiful review! This is on my TBR. :) I read Pregnant Pause by Han Nolan earlier this month about a pregnant teen (and loved it), and your mention of Kenzie's pregnancy not being romanticized reminded me of that novel. Definitely going to pick this one up. :)

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  8. Jen! This is so glorious. Thank you so much for these words, and for giving the book a chance! And for not, in the end, declaring it cheesy. :) Truly, I love this and will cross post it very soon. I just now was told about it by my publisher.

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    1. After reading Small Damages, I doubt you could write something cheesy! There were just so many beautiful things about this book -- I wish I could have crammed all of them into one short review.

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  9. I love this review! I wasn't a fan of her novel last year, You Are My Only, but I did really like the writing style. It was beautiful. In fact, I may just read Small Damages for the writing style. I am a sucker for beautiful writing. :P

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  10. Yay! Another glowing review! So you know how much I adored this book, I am still thinking about it a few weeks later! Yes to Estela just being so WONDERFUL in her own Estela kind of way. And yes to the amazingly beautiful writing. I have so many pages in that book marked with stickies it's almost comical to look at! And yes to feeling a bit jaded sometimes when you read, feeling like you MUST have read it all by this point. I feel that way too sometimes. I too was just so impressed with this book and this writer. I cannot wait to read more:)

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    1. I bought Undercover and can't wait to read it!

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  11. I have a tendency to look at books going "Okay, what are you going to try now?", because there ARE so many things people are using to coax readers right now...I'm a fan of well-written stories for the sake of *story* :o)

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  12. I read about this book awhile ago and had one opinion and now that I have read your review...whew! How refreshing my make a departure from angels, vampires, and the supernatural to a book about the cold hard facts of life told in an amazing lyrical words. Sounds like another winner to me! Also, I agree with what was said in another comment. I thought this was a "lady going to some warm place to find her womyness". I cannot abide.

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    1. Yep -- definitely try it -- one of the best contemporaries I've read so far this year.

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  13. What a crappy situation. But like you said..really? sent away to hide her pregnancy?! What is this 1960? lol Girls go to school pregnant like it's nothing. I guess there are some families that are still really shamed and might decide to do this. Sometimes a beautiful story without gimmicks is great!

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    1. Good thing you are now reading contemporaries, so you can try this!

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  14. The snippet was just so beautiful. SMALL DAMAGES makes my list.

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  15. I cannot wait to read this one.

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  16. I think it is refreshing when you can read a book and be impressed by the entire package, by how much it moves you instead of how much it impresses you with it's gimmicks. I wasn't planning on reading this one, but you made me want to.

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  17. This sounds so good, and I like the fact that it's not gimmicky. I wish more authors would write like that (just because you CAN put something in a book, doesn't mean you SHOULD). Plus I love Spain. I will go there someday. :)

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  18. This also sounds interesting! :) I like when authors have poetic writing style! :)

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  19. Somehow I missed this the first time. Loved your review. This sounds like a really good book and I will definitely be reading it in the future.

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  20. This one sounds great! And I'm totally with you about expecting a book to impress me. But I need to get out of that mentality!

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