"Outside in the courtyard, I hear the Gypsies settling in - someone laughing, someone pulling out the drum, someone making rasgueado and turning around the sound, and when I look through the open door to the earth beyond, I see Rafael stomping at the dust at his feet and the dust rising like fog."In Small Damages a pregnant American teenager is shipped off to Spain, where a couple is waiting to adopt her child. Keeping the baby would derail Kenzie's college plans and her nascent career in filmmaking. No one, other than her mortified mother and her Yale-bound boyfriend, needs to know of her misstep. Her cover is that she is learning how to cook Spanish food and improving her language skills. In Spain, however, Kenzie realizes there are more choices to make.
The backstory unfolds slowly in shuffled flashbacks while exploring Seville and working on a remote bull ranch. This exotic setting is peopled with multidimensional characters who are distinctly Spanish. Shy and modest Esteban isn't a typical romantic hero, and Estela, the cook with a past, hides her generosity behind a gruff exterior. As the gypsies come and go, their music lingers. This book engages all the senses so that the reader is there in the moment with the protagonist.
Kenzie is self-absorbed at first, but that's understandable given her difficult situation. Her mother's insistence on hiding the accidental pregnancy seems rather anachronistic. Her boyfriend refuses to see this as his problem too. Both her mother and her boyfriend had suggested abortion, but Kenzie had refused. Still grieving the death of her father, she sees the fetus as a link to him. The narrative dutifully follows the convention of young adult literature by side-stepping abortion. In this novel, choice is not political, religious or even moral; it's a personal decision.
I'd recommend Small Damages to mature teenagers and to adults who enjoy literary fiction. It will be released tomorrow on July 19, 2012. Simmering with secrets, savory flavor and dusty heat, this book is seasoned just right for summer.
The book trailer features the author's talented husband on guitar
and her gorgeous photos of Spain.
Small Damages received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.
It was also reviewed in the NYT Books section last weekend.
Disclosure: Author Beth Kephart is a blog buddy.
I received a free ARC from the publisher on my request.
My reviews of two more Kephart novels are here:
Undercover by Beth Kephart (review and interview)
You are My Only by Beth Kephart (review)