Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review: Small Damages by Beth Kephart


Title: Small Damages 

Author: Beth Kephart

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Small Damages is a quiet tale, filled with a languid prose that not many readers will enjoy. It reads practically like a verse novel, for its lines are so very poetic, but at its heart, it is a story that cannot be explained but one that can only be felt. Admittedly, I didn’t expect to enjoy Small Damages as much as I did. It is a story of an eighteen-year-old girl, Kenzie, who is sent to Spain to give birth to her child so as to save her widowed mother the shame of dealing with a pregnant daughter. Yet, although Small Damages deals with teenage pregnancy, an issue I’ve always seen as been very black-and-white, more than anything else, it is a coming of age tale of finding yourself and learning what you truly want from life.

What makes Small Damages such an impactful novel is, first and foremost, its prose, but also its general story arc. It starts out with Kenzie staying in Spain, living in a house with Estela, a hardened old cook, and Esteban, a quiet boy who has a way with birds and horses. Kenzie is in Spain to give up her child to a family that desperately wants one and to spare both her mother and boyfriend from having to deal with what has happened to Kenzie, especially as she refuses to abort her child. Kenzie is a quiet heroine, strong in nature and contemplative in spirit. Unlike the kick-ass heroines who grace the pages of adventure novels, bravely slaying beasts, Kenzie tackles her inner demons, a journey which I find infinitely more powerful than any other.

Seville, Spain is the setting of our story and through Kephart’s writing, it comes alive through the pages. You see, reading this book feels much like living in Spain yourself, eating the foreign food, smelling the earthy smells, and seeing the cultural aspects that make it a unique nation. As such, Kenzie’s experience in Spain is felt all the more vividly for the setting of her story plays an important role throughout the novel. Kenzie, too, is a heroine we cannot help but sympathize with. Over the past year, she has lost her father, the one person in the world she was ever close to, and her mother has insisted on moving on, shoving her father’s things into remote locations in the house, pretending as if he never existed.

It is then that we see Kevin, Kenzie’s boyfriend and the father of her child, appear and help her through her rough times. It is him and her close circle of friends who are always with her, supporting her, and better than anyone else, Kevin knows what Kenzie needs even without her having to say it. But, when it came to the issue of Kenzie’s pregnancy, Kevin, bound for Yale in just a few months, refused to come with her to Spain. Now, alone in a foreign country with a cook who is harsh and a boy who won’t talk, Kenzie is lost, confused, and feels unloved. It is only her baby which keeps her going, keeps her putting one step in front of the other. Although it is very subtle, this bond of mother-child is gently built up throughout the novel, making even teenagers feel the wonder of what it is like to have a child, despite never having been pregnant.

Nevertheless, despite all these beautiful qualities, from Kenzie’s personality to the scenery to her slow bond with her child, what makes Small Damages the novel it is are its characters. As the story wears on, Estela slowly opens up to Kenzie, becoming the mother-figure she always wanted but never had. Estela has a brutal past of her own, filled with unrequited love, but she is a strong figure, indomitable in her strength and a constant pillar for Kenzie to lean on, unlike her mother ever was. It is their relationship that truly spoke to me the most. In addition to Estela, Kenzie forms an interesting bond with the surrogate mother of her child. Kenzie, insistent on meeting who will be the eventual parents of her daughter, must now also come to terms with the idea of giving up a part of herself – a part of her father, who she so desperately loved and misses – to someone else entirely.

Small Damages is an extremely thoughtful book. In it, Kenzie is forced to think about what she wants from life – her mother’s understanding, her boyfriend’s support, or something else entirely – but along the way, she finds people whom she can trust, more than her own friends, and who trust her, more than her own family. In other words, Kenzie finds a place to belong in Spain and that, in my eyes, is where the true beauty of this tale lies. Of course, there is a very gentle romance, first springing up as a mutual friendship between Esteban and Kenzie, but truly, I hesitate to call it love. It is something special for sure, but more than that, it is a feeling. Kephart has written a novel where the word “love” is never necessary because you can feel the palpable affection so clearly. In fact, her whole book is like this – one feeling after another, meshing together to make a collage that looks, surprisingly enough, like life and the beauty it holds. 

14 comments:

  1. Oh, my goodness, I can't believe how incredible this sounds, and only you are capable of making a book that is essentially about teen pregnancy appealing to me. I love that the prose is so gorgeous and I love that it's such a quiet book. I doubt I'd ever warm up to Kevin (spare him the shame? really?) but I'd most definitely like Kenzie AND her story.
    Astonishingly good review, my friend. I'll go see if I can somehow grab a copy right away.

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  2. Something here is appealing to me, even though this is the very sort of story I would normally hesitate to pick up. Kenzie sounds like a brilliant character, and I can already see myself connecting with her, despite the situation. I quite like the sound of the Spanish setting, too. Brilliant review, Keertana!

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  3. Oh, Keertana! I am over the moon that this book resonated with you! When I read it last year I was so blown away and immediately started talking it up to everyone I knew. It makes me kind of sad when people read the synopsis of this book and immediately assume it's your standard teen pregnancy / issue book. It is so much MORE.

    And the writing, is it not to die for?

    Also I LOVED the ending SO much. I had a big ole smile plastered on my face and a few tears in my eyes as I read the final few pages. Brilliant, heartfelt review:)

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  4. Oh, I love the fact that it's such a thoughtful book! This doesn't sound like a book I would really enjoy either but you make it sound so amazing. I love that Spain plays an important part.

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  5. This sounds like such a thoughtful, and engaging novel with lots of issues handled well. However you put me off when you began talking about the poetic prose. It's really not the type of thing I enjoy and I'm not sure whether that would hinder me reading it. Other than that, this novel sounds fabulous!

    However I am glad that you could find a novel that was so special and didn't need the word 'love' to be able to feel the affection because that is a very cute novel indeed.

    Fabulous review, Keertana.

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  6. Keertana, this review painted such a vivid image for me about what this book is really about. I love your descriptions of Spain, and it makes me want to pick up this book just to read about Spain. This book actually reminds me a ton of How to Save A Life (which is you haven't read, I think you'd love). I love the emotion that seems to be apparent in this book. Also, the relationships that develop also seem so deep and raw, which is something that I'm so excited to read already.

    Fantastic review, really Keertana! So beautiful, and you've made me super excited to pick this book up now.

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  7. Wow, you made it sound beautiful! Talk about poetic prose :)

    It sounds like a lovely read, and maybe even a palate cleanser for everything wild and crazy out there. You sold me!

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  8. I adored this review when I first read it on Goodreads and now I've fallen in love with it even more! The writing sounds absolutely flawless, Kenzie a hugely likeable character that I would be able to connect to and don't get me started on Spain, I've always wanted to travel to Europe, so I would love to see how this book manages to capture Spain in all it's glory! Wonderful review Keertana! :)

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  9. I am such a sucker for gorgeous writing and poetic prose is wonderful, I also think I would like the setting and I am very curious to see how this one all settles out. Thanks for the lovely reveiw!

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  10. Lovely review, Keertana. I've heard such great things about this book. I have it on my shelf, so I need to get to it soon - it sounds like something I'd really like.

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  11. This book doesn't scream to me that it is a me book, and yet, every review I read of it is beautiful and tempting. I love the idea of her finding somewhere that she fits more than she ever had before, and I enjoy a quiet romance. Still unsure if I'll ever pick this one up, but I have a feeling if I do I wont' regret it.

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  12. I actually have been really interested in reading this book. I think the setting is primarily what draws to me. I wish I could visit Sevilla (someday...). I also am totally down for a more quiet, introspective type of book. If I had a type of contemporary that I did like to read, that would probably be it. Beautifully written review, as always, Keertana, and now I must move this up on my TBR list!

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  13. I loved this book so much as well, especially the prose that was nearly verse like, as you said. It is definitely a quite book that you FEEL, such a perfect way to describe it. And the characters are really fantastic. I don't usually like a lot of flashback, but I felt like it was done perfectly in this story. And romances like this that are subtle, always seem the most powerful and meaningful to me. Beth Kephart is also the sweetest ever! <3

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  14. I love books that take place internationally and I know this book should have been amazing for me, but for some reason it just wasn't. I know that many parts were very beautiful and I agree that it's a thoughtful book, I think that's a great way to describe it. But maybe it was my mood or something but I was actually bored when reading it. So I guess I just didn't have the connection. I'm so glad you did though! And I would have guessed it to be your kind of book as well, so I'm glad I would have been right! I didn't know what to say in a review so I actually didn't even review it.

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