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Book Review: Small Damages by Beth Kephart

When Kenzie loses her father, she finds solace in the arms of her brilliant boyfriend.  But when she winds up pregnant, he’s not exactly supportive.  Neither is her mother, who immediately ships her off to a remote village in southern Spain to wait out her pregnancy and give her baby up for adoption.  As Kenzie copes with the various forms of loss, the people in Spain begin to work their way into her broken heart and help her find the beauty in the little things.

Beth Kephart’s lyrical novel about a young girl in a situation where she feels as though she has no choices is one of the standout YA novels of the year.  Full of memorable characters, locations, and beautiful prose, Kephart’s book is going to appeal to readers who like their novels to require a bit of thinking.  Kephart offers no easy answers here, and the result is an usual and pleasant reading experience.

As a reader, I should have connected to this one more than I did.  I don’t know what it was about the book, but my guess is that I read it at the wrong time.  I have a lot going on in my personal life, and perhaps that’s why I couldn’t fully commit to this one. While I was reading it, I had the sensation that I was reading something truly special, but I couldn’t seem to get there mentally.  Whatever that means, right?  At any rate, this is one I’ll probably have to revisit when I’m in a different headspace, because it’s definitely worth a careful reading.

Kephart’s vivid southern Spain setting comes alive through her beautiful, lyrical prose.  Kenzie’s first-person narration (to her unborn child) provides a fresh perspective on a YA trope that’s been well-covered.  None of Kephart’s characters are simple and all of them are memorable.  She allows readers to come to their own conclusions about each person’s motivations, which is a welcome change.

Reluctant readers, beware: the plot is slow-moving throughout the novel but feels like it grinds to a near-halt close to the end.  Kenzie’s inability to make up her mind doesn’t help matters.  Readers looking for a novel with lush writing, gorgeous descriptions, and lots of character-based storytelling won’t be disappointed, though.

Recommended with reservations.

Small Damages by Beth Kephart. Philomel: 2012. Library copy.