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Presented by State Library Victoria

Letter to the author of 'Still Life with Tornado' (MINOR SPOILERS)

Dear A.S. King,

I love you, but also like, totally hate you at the same time. Here’s why:

So I started reading Still Life with Tornado three weeks ago, I finished it today at 7:34pm. It’s now 7:54pm and I am ready to tear my hair out. The fact that you weaved so many stories and perspectives and lives into this outstanding book in under three hundred pages is impeccable, but the issues focused on and highlighted was what made Still Life with Tornado a game changer for me. Let’s get real for a second: a couple of pages in when I first got sent the novel I was confused, bored and really lost. In just a few pages, Sarah was the most complex character I had ever seen in my life. Safe to say I put the book down, procrastinated as much as I could and then picked it up again yesterday afternoon when I realised I actually had to review it. My opinion now? This novel is one of the most original, thoughtful and emotive pieces of writing I have ever had the pleasure to read.

Firstly, let’s focus on themes. Identity, family, trust and belonging are themes that I believe strongly influenced this novel. From Sarah not knowing who she really is to the mystery surrounding her family to learning how to trust herself (quite literally, I mean how many Sarah versions were there?), these themes were weaved in to every sentence. Belonging was a confusing one for me, although easily identified and prevalent, I just thought it was really odd. Her entering the home of her abusive father in order for him to hit her so that she was like everyone else in her family was quite disturbing, but also represented how traumatised she really was. Her not being able to remember the Mexico incident is a direct portrayal of the trauma she’s had to face. By using chapters as little pieces of memory that help Sarah link together her past also allowed me, the audience, to feel connected with her, as if we were both trying to figure out her complicated past.

The most relatable part of the novel to my life was the scenarios concerning originality of art. As an aspiring artist myself, it’s so easy to understand Sarah’s obsession with being original with every piece, with not being like everyone else. Her thought pattern when concerning art is jumbled, messy and easy to get lost in, but then becomes clear and open once its finished. Just like art. Putting these random little traits in to your characters not only makes them more likeable, but very original.

Something I’m very invested in at the moment is using YA novels to expose audiences to the realities of life, and you my dear author, did it splendidly. From complex issues of student/teacher relationships, domestic abuse and broken families to things as simple as homelessness, work stress and fear of the unknown, Still Life with Tornado represented them all equally. Even though this many unfortunate situations aren’t usually associated with the same person all at once, Sarah still is relatable and (thankfully) uses none of them as scapegoats. She knows very little, wonders a lot and finds out what she needs. She is a normal 16-year-old girl like me, but she is original.

My biggest question: How could you keep a secret like the one about Sarah’s father for so long? I nearly flew out of my seat when the first clue was dropped and was like finally some sense in this tornado of a novel (see what I did there, how original), but was also like, how dare you. How dare you confuse me for over 100 pages then drop a bomb on me like that. The whole ‘Miss Smith thing’ and the ‘Bruce thing’ and the ‘original thing’ wasn’t enough obviously, so you decided to drop in domestic violence to really shock me into a comatose state. Congratulations, by the way, because you totally did. Using different perspectives like 10-year-old Sarah in Mexico, Sarah now and also Sarah’s mother to link together just who Chet (Sarah’s dad) really is was done fantastically. The overlapping stories complimented each other, furthering the emotive tone of the novel.

In conclusion, thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this incredible piece, I absolutely adored it.