I believe it is no secret that I am a HUGE fan of the writing and works of A. S. King, so I was honored when her publicist reached out to me and asked if we wanted to do a cover reveal for her Fall 2016 release, STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO. Because YES! I want to do that thing. And as an added bonus, I got to read a super advanced copy of this book, which hit my right in the existential feels and did not in any way disappoint. It’s good, it’s moving, and it’s expertly crafted, which will surprise no one. I also had the chance to ask A. S. King a few questions, which I appreciated because she is such a passionate advocate for teens and teen issues. Without further adieu, I present to you the cover of STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO . . .
It’s such a good representation of the theme and mood of the book.
Still Life With Tornado Description
A heartbreaking story of a talented teenage artist’s surreal awakening to the horrifically unoriginal brokenness of her family from critically acclaimed award-winner A.S. King.
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 explores 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 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 everyday abuse and survival that will linger with readers long after the last page.
A Short Interview with Author A. S. King
What was the process of coming up with this cover design like for you? And how do you think this cover represents this book and the life of Sarah?
Cover design is something I’m a bit of a nerd about. I started out as a visual artist and the entire process of book design is exciting to me. I’m very fortunate to have a bit of input for most of my covers and in this case, I knew we’d be starting in a good place because my editor, Andrew Karre, knows what I like when it comes to cover art. When he sent the first of the images for Still Life With Tornado it was a pretty powerful WOW moment.
I love this cover so much. I think it fits the book so well. Look at that messy funnel scribble of life! I’m thrilled that we went with something so striking and conceptual. As Samira Iravani worked on the design and added the labels to the tornado, it just got better and better. By the time the cover was done I felt it represented Sarah’s story perfectly.
You obviously are very passionate about the life of teenagers and I think you represent their inner lives really well. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges teens are facing today?
I think teens in the early 21st century are facing some interesting challenges and if I went into them all, we’d be here all week. But on a more internal level, I write pretty widely about the underestimation and disrespect of teenagers in our culture and how it’s hurting not just present teenagers, but future adults (who are actually now adults). I love exploring the double-standard psychology of it. The superiority. The lying-to-save-them-from-the-truth. The eye-rolling. The near-instant mistrust and the near-non-existent patience. As humans, our growth doesn’t stop when we fit into adult-sized clothing. Not one person I know would treat a toddler the way they treat a teenager when the child trips over his own shoe or accidentally spills her cup of juice. Or when they cry. There’s a sort of systemic psychological hazing teenagers undergo in our country and it’s not something that’s easy to call out. It’s in the groundwater. It’s in the mindset now—in our DNA. I see college students rolling their eyes at high school students, and graduates of both rolling their eyes at all beneath them. It’s a cycle of condescension and alienation. It didn’t always used to be like this. We’re eating ourselves.
I’m interested in the family unit and what it looks like now compared to just before WWII when my parents grew up. I’m interested in how the family unit has changed and how it relates to the teenage experience I talked about above. I’m interested in why families fall apart and how we might be able to keep them together or if we should, which is what drew me to writing about Sarah and her mother Helen in Still Life With Tornado, I guess. Domestic abuse is still so normalized in our culture that it’s hard to figure out where our priorities really lie when it comes to children. There’s a lot of weird shit in the groundwater, really. And we’re all drinking it. And I don’t think it’s good for any of us.
So I’ve read a few pages of Still Life with Tornado and there is a moving scene where your main character, Sarah, stands before a painting that obviously speaks to her. What painting or artist really speaks to you? What art would you like to share with teens?
I really can’t pick a favorite artist or painting. It’s an impossible task. I can say that if I only have two hours in a large museum I tend to skip to the abstract expressionists, surrealists, and contemporary artists. I can go to the same museum many times and be blown away by a different painting each time. When I walk in I think I’m excited to see, say, the Van Gogh or the Rothko or the O’Keeffe, but then I see a piece by a painter I’ve never heard of before and I can’t breathe it’s so good. That happened to me in St. Louis when I went to see one of the best Max Beckmann collections in the country. I love Beckmann intensely and I was thrilled to see so many of his pieces, but then I got upstairs and this giant triptych by someone I never heard of made me start crying on the spot. I do that in museums, just like Sarah’s mom. Art flips a switch in me.
I wish there were more women represented in museums. I love to see a Grace Hartigan or an Aleksandra Ekster piece in a collection but I still wish there was more representation. There are loads of women painting and they always have been, but in the arts we are often limited to the old standards. So if I was to pick art to share with teens, I’d make it like a treasure hunt. I’d want them to find what they like. Hit the museum first and see what appeals to them, then sit with a computer and find the names they never heard of before. Something that makes them say wow. I recently Googled “female abstract expressionists” and found a whole new world out there.
We have spoken some on Twitter about adult reactions to your work, and as you know I have been asked several times by adults who question whether or not teens understand your work. What would you like to say to those adults?
I suppose I would start with: Please stop underestimating teens, thanks.
Karen, you and I both know teens read my work and certainly understand it. Oftentimes I feel like I’m writing in a sort of code—a code that adult readers can enjoy but that teens can enjoy even more because there’s an extra something in there just for them. I’m not sure how to explain it. Some adults can also understand the code. Those who only read the words and see the concepts as challenging or difficult and then ruminate that into an idea that my work is too…too…difficult for teens need to stop and remember what it was like to be a teenager and be taken seriously by an adult. (Hard to remember? It’s because it doesn’t happen all that much.) Teens read so many great books from all parts of the library, including the adult literary stacks, and we need to remember that. Also, many of them can do calculus while most adults I know forget how to divide fractions.
So I guess the first thing I’d do if I met an adult who thinks this way is give them a worksheet of complex fraction division problems. If they need help, my thirteen-year-old could probably give them a hand.
ABOUT A. S. King
A.S. King is the award-winning author of eight acclaimed YA novels. Her novel Please Ignore Vera Dietz earned a 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor and Ask The Passengers won the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The New York Times called her “one of the best YA writers working today.” King lives with her family in Pennsylvania, where she returned after living on a farm and teaching adult literacy in Ireland for more than a decade. www.as-king.com
Karen’s Thoughts on STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A. S. King
This book hit me in the existential feels; it’s moving and expertly crafted. King continues to use unconventional narratives to explore topics relevant to teens in ways that teens will connect with and feel understood, respected and valued.
You’ll want to add this to your TBR list right now. And thank you A. S. King for your time and passion here today at TLT.
October 11th 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers (9781101994887)