There are very few writers — of any genre — that absolutely grasp how to write dialogue that an actual human being would say. And I think its especially difficult when it comes to YA characters. Rainbow Rowell can do it. Andrew Smith can do it. And my god, AS King can do it, too.
Years and years ago (for CBR3!!!), I read Please Ignore Vera Dietz, a book I still think about every once in a while. It was so different from anything else I had read in the world of YA, it really and truly stood out for me as groundbreaking. Then in CBR6, I read another one of King’s books, Ask the Passengers, and it was another beautiful home run from King. Her books were a bit bizarre — but so realistic. The kids had some unique issues but handled them in mature and impressive ways. These are books that I made a mental note to have on hand when Bunnybean went to high school.
Last week, I saw the new AS King book on the shelf at the library, so I grabbed it, along with one from a few years ago. Why did it take me so long to get back to an author I had enjoyed so much? I HAVE NO IDEA. My bad, clearly.
First, the newer book, Still Life with Tornado. From Amazon:
At 16, Sarah is facing what she calls an “existential crisis,” questioning whether her life has meaning or value, an event fueled by an unfair art show, a cruel teacher, a toxic and abusive family, a missing brother, and the loss of her ability to draw. Sarah wanders through the streets of Philadelphia and meets her future self at age 23 and 40 as well as her 10-year-old self. With the help of these past and future selves, she uncovers hidden memories of the vacation leading up to her brother leaving and the lies and violence that have driven her family dynamics for years. This beautifully written, often surreal narrative will make readers wonder if Sarah is schizophrenic, if she has post-traumatic stress disorder, or if she just needs to take a break from the realities of her life. Two weeks before Sarah’s crisis, her friend Carmen drew a tornado and told Sarah that it was not a sketch of a tornado but of everything the tornado contained. This drawing becomes an analogy for all that Sarah is hiding in the emotional tornado of her life, the secrets she has hidden from herself and the world. King’s brilliance, artistry, and originality as an author shine through in this thought-provoking work. Sarah’s strength, fragility, and ability to survive resonate throughout. VERDICT This is a complex book that will not appeal to all readers, but for others it will be an unforgettable experience.
I needed to steal the blurb from the book’s page, because I really couldn’t do the plot any justice in describing it. Yes, this is a serious story about bullying, about sexual abuse, about depression, about domestic violence, and about the difficulty about navigating through the teen years. It is also a strange and bizarre look at what makes a person themselves — Sarah comes across versions of herself at different ages as she makes her way across Philadelphia while skipping school. She meets her 10 year old self, her 23 year old self, and her 40 year old self, out and about, giving advice and offering an ear to listen to Sarah. Is Sarah having a breakdown, or is there something more to these other versions of herself that she meets?
Its only when all of the versions of Sarah get together, to become the complete version of Sarah, that she realizes what she needs to do in order to move on with her life and to keep her family together.
So weird. And so upsetting. Sarah’s family was difficult to read about. Her parents had a toxic relationship and her brother’s disappearance was certainly troubling. And Sarah’s ability (subconsciously) to block her past from her memory was fascinating to read about, even though we knew it was going to negatively effect her present.
When I finished that one, I immediately picked up Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. And this one was one of the best YA books I’ve come across. Ever.
In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last–a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities–but not for Glory, who has no plan for what’s next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way…until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions–and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do anything to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.
Glory is graduating from high school, and has constantly lived in the shadow of her mother, who committed suicide when Glory was in preschool. Glory has no plans for college or for her future, as she assumes that she’ll follow in her mothers footsteps and end up dead. She spends most of her time hanging out with her “friend” Ellie, who lives in a strange, cultish commune across the street. Not really a friend, but the only companion Glory has really ever had, they talk about their experience (or, in Glory’s case, non experience) with boys and what their futures may hold.
One night, Glory and Ellie decide (DON’T ASK WHY) to drink a desiccated, mummified bat that they found. They sprinkle the bat’s remains into their warm, cheap beers, and toast to their futures.
When they wake up the next day, they realize that everything is different. They can see the past and the future of everyone they make eye contact with. They can see the horrors that lie ahead for civilization, and Glory realizes that something has to be done to warn others about it. And so she keeps a journal.
She describes the horrible laws that will be passed, eventually taking away all rights for women. How a second civil war will tear our country apart, and how women will be kidnapped from states bordering opposing sides to be held prisoners as breeders and sexual slaves. And how rebel insurgents will refuse to accept this new society, and fight to bring our nation back together.
Glory sees the role that she is to play in this bleak future, and gladly accepts her fate if it means that she can make a potential difference. In the meantime, she struggles to accept her past, learning as much as she can about her mother and how her suicide affected everyone around her.
Another book that wasn’t easy to read, as the scenes in the future are bleak as hell. But King pulls it off. The strange powers that come from the bat aren’t really explained, but theres really no need for them to be. Just accept them and keep reading.
And yes, the future that Glory sees is completely bleak and awful. But she does what she can to prepare herself — as well as society as a whole — by keeping her journals and making note of who is responsible and when.
AS King is a totally badass, original voice. I plan to go back and read all of the other books of hers that I’ve missed.
4 stars for Tornado, 4 1/2 for Glory.