It’s senior year, and while Kenzie should be looking forward to prom and starting college in the fall, she is mourning the loss of her father. She finds solace in the one person she trusts, her boyfriend, and she soon finds herself pregnant. Kenzie’s boyfriend and mother do not understand her determination to keep the baby. She is sent to southern Spain for the summer, where she will live out her pregnancy as a cook’s assistant on a bull ranch, and her baby will be adopted by a Spanish couple.
Alone and resentful in a foreign country, Kenzie is at first sullen and difficult. She begins to open her eyes and her heart to the beauty that is all around her and inside of her.
I loved this book. A lot. I got my mother to read it and she loved it as well. A lot.
Now, before I start this review, I will say that people who like books in which there are lots of action and things happen will probably not be happy with this book. Not many things happen in this book. If I were to describe it to you using my own words, I’d say this book is a journey of internal growth, a retrospection of life and love. An investigation on what it means to be a mother and what it means to have a mother. A journey into yourself to find the person you always were and to coax her out into the world. This is a story about finding a family that has ties deeper than blood and the colour of your skin. And above all, this book is a love letter to Spain. You cannot read this book without wanting to go to Spain and experience life the way it is narrated here.
The strongest part about Small Damages is its writing. The prose is so exquisitely beautiful that I, for the life of me, cannot cull out one sentence or paragraph to share – okay, here’s a tiny bit:
“The day is collapsing into dusk. The Gypsies in their white shirts are the only lamps. The moon is coming in like a pan on fire.” (164)
The style of the prose is somewhat stream of consciousness paired with a lyricism that gives it an almost hypnotizing cadence. This is no purple prose but genuine lyrical prose that is anchored by the skein of sincerity and honesty that befits the character. Kenzie is a pregnant teen sent away by her mother to have her baby and then give it up for adoption to a Spanish couple. The book is addressed to the child. Kenzie’s voice is fresh, melancholy and at the time same, a bit hopeful. There is angst but of a different flavor than the usual. The angst is dampened by the grief that is so apparent in her words. She has lost her father and she can’t lose the baby because it contains a bit of her father. The loss here is not imparted by the tears (which are frequent) but the quietness in the book.
And then there are the characters. Every single character in this novel is beautifully etched out. Estela is perhaps my favourite character but she is not the only one who shines. The gypsies, the silent boy who watches Kenzie, the various other adults, even the people who want to adopt Kenzie’s child – they all seem to occupy tangible space, they are that detailed. And then there is the gradual pace of the book – the book is slow and the things that happen are internal. The setting is a character in its own right – vivid, vibrant and demanding an emotional return for its beauty.
This book, you guys, is lovely. It takes realistic fiction and gives it a whimsical twist. It takes grief, fear and all other heavy emotions and filters them through the lenses of a beautiful and strange place. This is one of the few instances when the cover of the book totally matches the story inside. I recommend this to you if you want something introspective, quiet and beautiful.