Small Damages by Beth Kephart ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: July 19, 2012
Publisher: Philomel/Penguin Books
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Spain, pregnancy, independence, grief
Format read: Bought.
Summary: Kenzie, a senior in high school, is sent to live in Spain for the duration of her unexpected pregnancy. Angry at her mother, questioning the relationship with her boyfriend, and confiding in her unborn child, Kenzie (reluctantly) works alongside a cook and befriends Esteban, a secretive boy who lives on property with her.
It’s both the best and the worst feeling when you pick up a book you bought years ago, and fall head over heels for it. Say hello to Small Damages — it’s a total beauty.
We have Kenzie, a senior in high school, who has recently lost her father. A new relationship with her best guy friend comes soon after, which leads to this unexpected pregnancy. Her mom’s resolution — pretty immediately — is to send her off to Spain until her delivery, and organize an adoption with a couple out there before Kenzie returns home. She is unhappy to be plucked in her life with Philadelphia, but, moreso, because her mother never stops to ask her what she wants.
My mother’s side is Spanish and I have been dreaming of going to Spain since I was in middle school but nothing has awakened that desire quite like Beth Kephart’s beautiful, lush descriptions from the sidewalks to the land to the smells to the people. I found myself wanting to dive back into the book for the setting as much as for Kenzie and her story. That’s saying something.
Smack dab in the middle of Seville is Estela, the cook Kenzie lives with and assist with her food and her shaky English. (Truthfully, she was the reason I bought the book. My name!) She’s brash and pushy and, at first, it’s tough for Kenzie to get used to that. But it’s good because Estela helps her get out of her own head by giving her something else to focus on — fake parties, amazing sounding food, and her own story. I didn’t know what to expect of this relationship at first, but, as I get further in, their time in the kitchen felt like a unique therapy session for both of them.
This book is so much about grief and trust. Kenzie is struggling to deal with the death of her dad, and how her mom has changed since then. She’s always flashing back to her friends, and her relationship with her boyfriend. What are they up to know? Are they thinking of her? How is she suddenly the girl who does everything wrong when all she used to do was right? She’s grieving the girl she used to be, and, already, the person she will be when she’s back in Philly. Kenzie talks to her child so much. It’s so lovely but it hurts so much too because you know what the plan is, you know what everyone is expecting her to do. This is where the trust comes in. Can she trust that her mom knows what’s best for her? Does she even trust herself?
I can say with confidence that Small Damages is one of the most gorgeous, heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read. I would not hesitate when buying it for the people in my life. The prose is so lovely; it wrapped me up and had me feeling so cozy, so into the story. Sure, it’s a little succinct and not as developed as it could have been but I liked the mystery; I liked how my own imagination was set free. It felt right. And the supporting characters? I adored watching how they slowly became Kenzie’s support system. So much to love, so much to highlight, and a book that I will definitely be rereading in the future.