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!