small damages

Small Damages by Beth Kephart

Kenzie is not the sort of teen who gets pregnant.  She has college plans, a boyfriend who is headed to Yale, but she took risks.  Earlier in the year, she lost her beloved father and now her mother just wants to move on.  Her mother wants to do the same with the pregnancy.  Kenzie decides to keep the baby and her mother creates a plan to keep the pregnancy a secret: she sends Kenzie off to Spain for the summer.  Staying with a friend of her mother, Kenzie is taken under the wing of Estela, a small, fierce woman who cooks for the ranch where they raise bulls for bullfighting.  Estela guides Kenzie through learning to cook, making sure that she also takes care of herself and the baby.  Kenzie meets the couple who will adopt her baby and also a young man who works on the ranch with the animals.  She slowly comes out of her shell, building relationships with those around her.  This book is an homage to Spain, an exploration of choice, and a delight of a read.

As always, Kephart writes with the voice of a poet.  Her language is especially effective here as she recreates Spain for the reader with all of its colors, scents and sounds.  There is a wonderful space to the novel, a quietness that is profound and amazing.  It too speaks of a foreign country, of being cared for by another generation, and of having time to contemplate and decide.  This book is also complex.  Decisions are made and reconsidered, lives are changed, and there is no surety to the final decision until the last page is turned.  It is a compelling dance between quiet desperation, beauty and real family and belonging. 

This is a book that you want to curl up and read and read as long as your eyes will let you.  It is a trip to Spain filled with all of the warmth, personality and impressive history of that land.  The play of the modern American teen against that timeless background is pure genius, giving a story that could have been straight forward a real depth and power.

This is an exceptional teen novel that will also be enjoyed by adult readers as a crossover title.  It is elegantly written and gloriously beautiful.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Philomel Books.