Book Review | Still Life With Tornado

Title // Still Life With Tornado

Author // A.S. King
Publication Date // 2017     
Publisher // Text Publishing
Genre // YA, Contemporary-Surrealism
Rating // ✭⭐︎


Sixteen-year-old Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has ‘done the art.’ She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia.

Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall. After decades of staying together ‘for the kids’ and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage.

As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original—and yet it still hurts.Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this is a vivid portrait of abuse, survival, resurgence that will linger with readers long after the last page.


Still Life with Tornado is the first book by A.S. King that I’ve read, and it was not at all what I expected.

It was better.

Sixteen-year old Sarah is having an existential crisis brought on by some seemingly innocuous events at school. As the story continues, we begin to unravel the truth behind Sarah’s struggles; strained relationships at home and at school have gone by virtually unnoticed by her until now when she is forced to confront what previously she had let herself not see. All of this is written with the undercurrent that – as Sarah herself notes – nothing is original, and that’s a scary thought for any teenager.

This was a book that left me thinking about it long after I put it down. I’m still thinking about it now, and the impact it has had on me. So many of the characters and relationships are relatable – no one is perfect, everyone is flawed, but in their own way. Everyone has problems they need to work through and there’s something compelling about reading about real life from the perspective of a teenager who’s world view is turned upside down.

A.S. King writes smart characters. Sarah is such a typical and intriguing teenager – her past and future selves are all her, but unique to their age. Her mother, Helen, often steals the show with the short chapters she’s given, detailing how and why her family has ended up where they are now. You can feel the respect that the author has for her characters – adult and teenager alike – and the problems that they face.

While the story is told from Sarah’s perspective, the deeper you get into the book, the more you begin to realise that it’s not actually about Sarah at all, and that’s part of the beauty of the storytelling.

This is smart, raw and honest storytelling and I loved it.

I gave Still Life With Tornado 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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