Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Small Damages by Beth Kephart

This book makes Katie want to move to Italy and I just might go with her.

Small Damages by Beth Kephart 

Some novels are a celebration of plot and place and conflict resolution. Others prefer to focus on language, flirting at times with being closer to poetry than prose. Somehow, Small Damages manages to give the reader the best of both worlds and then some.

Kenzie is 18, pregnant, and being shipped off to Seville, Spain. Her mother wants her away from the stigma and judgment. Her boyfriend wants to go to college without added responsibility. Now Kenzie is alone on a bull farm with strangers in a strange place trying to come to terms with the twists her life has taken over the past year.

With that description, some of you may be shaking your heads, thinking “been there, done that.” This has all the makings of your standard “issue” novel—teen pregnancy, dead parent, heartbreak—with the added bonus of an exotic location. And perhaps in different hands it would have been just another addition to this growing genre, but a few pages is all it takes to realize that Small Damages is so much more.

First of all, there is the language—each word so carefully chosen that you can’t help but savor them one by one. There is no section of this book you’ll find yourself skimming. Then there is Seville—gorgeously rendered, orange-tree draped Seville that I now desperately want to visit. And finally there are the characters—those heartbreakingly, wonderfully realized characters.

Kenzie has been given the task on the farm of helping Estela in the kitchen, learning to cook the best dishes of the region. Estela is distracted, though, by the arrival of Luis and his band of gypsies, who sing haunting songs and offer strange gifts. And then there is Esteban, the young man who helps with the bulls and talks to horses and has a story of his own. In fact, they each have their own stories, and as the past is revealed, Kenzie begins to realize that is the choices we make during our struggles that ultimately define us.

Seamlessly combining the history and cuisine of Spain with a story of love and family, Small Damages is a slight novel that packs a huge punch. 
 

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